Advocating for Your Gifted Child Within the Public School System

A parent is her child’s best advocate. Many times, as parents, we find ourselves in a situation where we need to speak up for our child, especially when she is too young to speak up for herself.

Parents of gifted children are often in the uncomfortable position of advocating for their child when her unique learning needs are not being met at school. When we see that we have to address these educational concerns with our child’s teacher or the school’s administrators, stress and emotions can undermine our ability to reach a desirable outcome. Being prepared is the critical component for having a successful meeting with teachers and school administrators.

But what does being prepared involve? What else can you do to ensure a productive and positive meeting with your gifted child’s school? Below are the steps you can take before, during, and even after the meeting which can help you and your child’s teachers or school administrators work together to meet the educational needs of your gifted child.

Before

Gather your information.

Depending on the focus of your meeting, you may need to have copies of your child’s achievement test scores, samples of class work, articles that relate to gifted children and their educational needs, copies of IQ test results, the report from a privately administered IQ test if available, and any other document which can validate your child’s learning needs.

Find out more about the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale that many gifted programs use as a metric.

Learn about applicable laws.

Every state and school district may differ in the services and accommodations they provide to gifted children, and understanding these laws will help you know which services you can expect your child’s school to provide. Go to your state’s department of education website to find these legal documents. You may find these under a "Special Education" section, although each site is structured differently. If there is a search function, looking up "gifted" or "gifted and talented" should yield the results you need.

Also, contact your school district’s gifted coordinator to help you locate information. Sometimes, these documents are not easy to find, so expect to put in some effort. Pouring through legal documents can be confusing, so consulting with another parent who has experience advocating for her child may make this step a bit easier.

Some states recognize that gifted children need Individualized Education Plans, and so, similar to students with learning disabilities, these children may qualify for accommodations and special learning support. Follow this link to learn more about special education evaluation process.

Understand the educational terms.

Understanding educational terms such as differentiation and acceleration, or those which relate to your gifted child’s needs, is important. Professional educational articles, blogs about gifted children, and the websites of gifted organizations are all good sources of information about educational strategies used for educating these children.

See the Resources section below for links to articles and websites, or refer to Noodle's homepage on gifted education.

Speak to experienced families.

Look to an experienced parent who has gone down this road before for advice and tips. Is there a local gifted parent support group that you can turn to for information? You can use Facebook or the websites listed at the bottom of the article to search for such groups. This information may seem elusive, but it’s worth the effort.

Prepare your concerns and goals.

Write a list of the concerns you have about your gifted child’s education and the solutions you’re seeking. You may need documents to back up the items on your list. It’s important to prioritize the accommodations you are seeking, as it’s unlikely the school will be able to accomplish everything on your list. Know exactly which solutions are non-negotiable and which you are willing to compromise on.

Decide who needs to be there.

Who attends this meeting depends on its focus. Is this the first time you’ve met with you child’s teacher about your concerns? If so, you likely don’t need more than yourself, your partner, and your child’s teacher. If this is a second or third meeting, and the school has not addressed your concerns, then you may need to request that your child’s teacher, the school’s gifted specialist (if there is one), and a school administrator are all present. There is also the option of hiring a private gifted advocate to attend. If you feel your child is old enough, she may also be included.

Be prepared for pushback.

As unfortunate as it is, busy teachers and school administrators don’t always feel the way you do about your gifted child’s needs. They may push back, using facts they feel support their position. Sadly, the most common arguments used to resist changes are likely to be your child’s shortcomings as a student. Try not to react defensively and certainly acknowledge your child’s weaknesses. Decide in advance whether these have a bearing on whether or not she could benefit from the accommodations you are requesting.

During

Leave your emotions at the door.

It’s best to enter the meeting with the expectation that everyone involved cares about your child and wants her to succeed in school. Assume that you all want to work as a team. Speak dispassionately, state your concerns and requests calmly, and provide documents as needed.

Don’t criticize, complain, or blame.

It can be difficult to keep a meeting positive and productive if participants feels personally attacked or become defensive. Of course, if this meeting concerns any negative or hurtful situations your child is experiencing at school, then you should explain what’s been occurring in as clear and objective a way as possible.

Avoid using inflammatory words.

We all know not to use offensive words, but terms such as gifted and bored also seem to inflame the conversation or shut it down completely. Find other ways and words to state your concerns and requests. For example, instead of saying gifted, you can state your child's strengths, skills, and achievement levels. To avoid using the word bored, you can talk about your child's resultant behaviors: talking too much in class, acting out, gazing out the windows, incomplete classwork, and so on. As a general rule, it's best to stick with descriptions of your child's behavior.

Offer to help with your requests.

Teachers are busier than ever before, and there are many demands on their time, both in and out of the classroom. Likely, your request will require your child’s teacher to put in more time and effort to accommodate your child, so offering to help her teacher or school can go a long way towards a successful outcome.

Read a teacher's perspective on parent involvement in schools.

Set up a follow-up meeting.

Whether this is an in-person meeting, one that takes place over the phone, or an email update, make sure to be explicit about how you want the school to follow-up.

After

Thank them and reiterate the outcome.

An example: Thank you, Mrs. Smith and Mr. Arthur for meeting with me on DATE concerning CHILD’S NAME and the X and Y accommodations I requested.

Add the details of what was discussed and what was agreed upon — as much as you feel is appropriate. This serves as a reminder to everyone about the details of the meeting, as well as creates a paper trail if needed in the future.

Check in with your child’s teacher.

If a future communication — meeting, phone call, email — was agreed upon, be sure to follow through. Discuss honestly which accommodations are working, which are not, how your child is doing, and ask what the teacher thinks about the plan.

With so much focus within our public schools on meeting grade-level standards, standardized testing, and improving test scores, gifted students are easily overlooked in the classroom — which puts the burden on parents to advocate for their child’s educational needs. This isn’t always easy, but going in prepared, knowledgeable, and with the right attitude can ensure a positive and productive meeting with her school.

Resources

On Noodle:

What To Do When Your Child Is Ahead of the Classroom

The Ins and Outs of Skipping a Grade

Avoiding Sibling Rivalry When Kids Have Different Academic Aptitudes

Articles:

Advocate for High-Ability Learners,” National Association for Gifted Children

Advocating for Your Gifted Child: Knowledge is Key,” Digest of Gifted Research, September 1, 2006

Educational Advocacy for Gifted Students,” Osborn, J., Commissioned by The Davidson Foundation, Spring 2001

Gifted by State,” National Association for Gifted Children

Tips for Parents: Advocacy - Working with Your Child’s School,” Shoplik, A., Davidson Institute for Talent Development, 2010

Websites:

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG)