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High Ability


I. Program Philosophy

High Ability Program Goals 

  • Implement an unbiased identification process based upon specific criteria using reliable and valid qualitative and quantitative testing measures
  • Create program options to provide advanced content and differentiated instruction specifically designed to help high ability students achieve maximum student growth
  • Provide professional development for educators so they can learn to recognize the characteristics of giftedness and how to meet the unique needs of high ability students
  • Inform parents about the high ability program and provide resources for parenting a gifted child
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the high ability program based upon student achievement on an annual basis

Definition of Giftedness 

The Indiana Department of Education requires school districts to identify high ability students, K-12, and provide them with appropriately differentiated curriculum and instruction. The state defines a high ability (gifted) student as one who "performs at, or shows the potential for performing at, an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one domain when compared to other students of the same age, experience, or environment; and is characterized by exceptional gifts, talents, motivation, or interests.". Southmont Schools identifies students as high ability in one of the following areas: General Intellectual; Math Only; or Language Arts Only.

Program Overview 

Southmont Schools recognizes that we have many high-achieving students in addition to those who meet nationally-recognized criteria for giftedness. Overall, Southmont Schools students outperform their peers nationally and at the state level. Our students’ median scores on a national achievement test (NWEA) are typically above the national norm. The typical expectations and instructional levels in a Southmont Schools classroom are already high. Our philosophy in Southmont Schools is to use formative assessment thoughtfully to match appropriately-challenging curriculum and experiences to every child, consistent with his or her abilities and leading to maximum growth. If that should ultimately lead to a high ability designation for a child, that is only one of many avenues to ensuring continuous progress and challenge. We have many others, including using technology as a resource for presenting advanced content grouping for instruction within classrooms, differentiation, enrichment projects and resources, leveled and guided reading groups, independent learning, student-driven inquiry on projects of choice/interest, and differentiation. It is not uncommon for parents to envision that the only way to meet a child’s needs is through testing and special placement. In fact, we meet the needs of highly-able students in Southmont Schools in many different ways as unique as each child who comes to us on a daily basis. In order to meet the needs of those students whose performance is consistent with nationally-recognized criteria for giftedness, we must provide them with advanced experiences through acceleration and/or enrichment of the curriculum. We also must provide them with opportunities to interact with their intellectual peers.

In general, a gifted (or high ability) student in Southmont Schools has received an ability score (commonly called an intelligence score) which is two standard deviations or more above the mean and scores at or above the 96th percentile on NWEA math and/or language arts. Other factors, such as teacher observation, parent observation, and student performance levels are considered as needed during the identification process. The process of identifying students is multi-faceted and takes into account multiple measures. An identification team (experienced teachers, administrators, high-ability trained educators, etc.) may consider all factors in a student’s profile before making a determination of placement. All students in grades K-12 are eligible yearly for consideration in the process. Students who are identified do not need to re-qualify from year to year unless concerns about performance or best fit arise. Procedures to exit students from the program involve parents, teachers, and school counselors in making the best decision to meet each child’s needs.


II. Multifaceted Identification

Quantitative Measures 

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT®), the most widely used and trusted intellectual abilities test, measures abilities across the symbol systems that are most highly correlated with fluid reasoning and problem solving. The test uses separate measures of verbal, quantitative, and nonverbal reasoning to provide multiple perspectives on student ability. A student consistently performing at the 96th percentile or the 9th Stanine is one indicator that a student needs advanced curriculum and/or instruction.

Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is administered to students in grades K-8. The NWEA assessments help to determine how a child is performing on state standards and as compared to peers. The test is adjusted to the student’s present level automatically and contains a full bank of questions ranging through high school level. Thus, it is a better measure of achievement for high ability students than a grade-level test such as ILEARN. Percentile scores on the NWEA test indicate a child’s instructional achievement level in Reading and Math. If a child scores in the 50th percentile, that means that his or her scores are equal to or surpass 50% of all other children in the same grade nationwide taking the test. The 50th percentile is considered average. The identification process looks at the 96th percentile on MAP and Primary MAP as an indicator that a student needs advanced curriculum and/or instruction. Children are considered to be in need of high-ability services when the percentile score meets or exceeds this percentile in two of three testing windows; standard deviation is considered to be fully inclusive.  Please remember that having only one indicator does not qualify a child for identification.

Since assessment scores change so much during elementary years, we consider achievement, ability scores, and teacher observations as needed when making placement recommendations.

ILEARN scores may also be considered as part of the process if identification is close or unclear.  SIGS or the HOPE Teacher Rating  may also be used as part of the process as needed to consider teacher or parent input.  The Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (UNIT) may be considered for nonverbal students showing signs of giftedness.  Other possible assessments that could be used when the process yields a close or unclear identification include the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Orleans Hanna Algebra Prognosis Test.  All measures will be considered at the 96th percentile or 9th Stanine (including standard deviation).


Southmont Schools identifies students for advanced curriculum in math and/or language arts. In K, Grade 2, and Grade 5, all students are administered the CoGAT Complete Battery test and NWEA. It is recommended that high ability screening occurs prior to transition years and HEA 1001 requires testing to be administered to students in these grade levels, which is why these particular grade levels are identified for universal screening. We use both qualitative (characteristics) and quantitative measures (test scores) in high ability identification.

If the identification process does not yield a clear result, an identification committee, rather than a single person or teacher, makes placement decisions based on a students’ needs and abilities. The identification committee is made up of administrators and teachers familiar with the student’s abilities and needs.The identification process typically takes place throughout each school year and takes place over several months’ time. Official identification is made in the spring.

III. Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

Students who are identified as high ability are provided with service options including the following:

Cluster Grouping - Students are ability grouped to provide a narrowed range of instruction in the class, and all classes have a group of average learners. For example, one class may have high ability students and a group of average learners. Other classes have some above average students, an average group, and some below average students. Class placement is evaluated annually at the building level with this high ability cluster grouping as one determination of placement for all students.

Differentiation in General Education Classrooms - Teachers use modified HA curriculum and instruction according to content, pacing, and/or product to meet the unique needs of students in the classroom. Levels of depth and complexity are differentiated through carefully planned, coordinated learning experiences that extend the core curriculum, combine the curricular strategies of enrichment and acceleration, and integrate instructional strategies that engage learners at appropriate levels of challen.

Honors - For grades 6-12 depending on subject area, these higher level classes proceed at a faster pace and cover more material than regular classes.

Advanced Placement - For grades 9-12 depending on the subject area, AP courses are offered that meet criteria established by institutions of higher education and audited by the College Board AP Program. College credit may be earned by obtaining a score of three or higher on an AP exam in specific content areas.

Dual Credit - For grades 9-12 depending on the subject area, students dually enroll in a college course, often for college credit. This allows access to additional academic and technical courses than what is provided at the local level.

Curriculum for high ability is integrated into these groups and classes, and meets the standards for high quality instructional material that is expected in Southmont Schools.

IV. Social-Emotional Learning

Each child, regardless of ability, has their own personality characteristics that lead to certain social and emotional needs as well as needs that arise because of the situation or environment in which they live. Children with high abilities may have additional affective needs resulting from their increased capacity to think beyond their years, greater intensity in response, combinations of unique interests, personality characteristics, and conflicts that are different from those of their age mates.

Physical, cognitive, and emotional development may also be at different levels within the same child that may present a number of problems for the child with exceptional abilities. Adults, accustomed to advanced verbal reasoning from the child, may fail to understand emotional outbursts more typical of their chronological age. In general, the greater the level of ability, the greater the potential for discrepancies.

High ability students may place unrealistically high standards for performance on themselves which may result in anxiety, frustration, or self-blame for less-than-perfect performance. Often they:

  • Feel as though others (parents or teachers) have unrealistically high expectations. This may result in fear of failure, avoidance of challenges, depression, and connection of self-worth to performance.
  • Develop unrealistically high standards for the performance of others. High ability students may experience difficulty constructing their identities, which may lead to lowered self-esteem. Difficulty with identity development may result from any of the following:
  • Lack of understanding of higher abilities and their implications
  • Feeling different from one’s same-age peers
  • Behaviors inconsistent with gender role expectations (e.g., sensitivity in gifted boys, assertiveness in gifted girls)
  • Being identified as twice-exceptional (learning disabled as well as having high abilities)
  • Differences resulting from cultural, linguistic, or SES differences.

Southmont Schools counselors participate in training to understand and meet the needs of all students. They are also equipped with a variety of resources to help students and parents navigate the educational experience.

Additional Resources Available:

  • The IDOE High Ability website has a variety of resources for social emotional learning as well as resources for additional learning outside of the classroom.
  • The Indiana Association for the Gifted provides resources for high ability coordinators and parents and teachers of high ability students. Visit
  • The organization SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) has resources for addressing the social and emotional needs of high ability students. Visit

V. Professional Development Plan

Southmont Schools provides professional development corporation-wide annually based on the needs of our staff and an evaluation of district-level needs. Additionally, resources and professional development at each building is determined by the school’s administrators.

VI. Systematic Program Evaluation

The high ability committee conducts a self-study annually. Each annual review will include an evaluation of the program alignment to the IDOE Checklist of High Ability Program Elements. In addition, the program evaluation will review each aspect of this High Ability program plan. Program elements will be compared to best practices for overall program effectiveness. The committee will analyze data, summarize strengths and areas of concern as well as brainstorming possibly steps for improvement.