COVID Update: Due to the suspension of statewide testing in California schools, annual GATE testing in SD Unified was interrupted in Spring 2020 and has not yet resumed (as of Feb 2021). Our understanding is that the usual CogAT screening-level testing of all 2nd graders (and certain 5th graders eligible for re-testing) will not be resumed until the State announces the resumption of all statewide testing. For more information see the District GATE webpage here or ask your Principal.
The first step in identifying whether students in our District are eligible for GATE is a multiple-choice screening test automatically given to all 2nd graders (unless parents opt out). Each school decides when to hold the test for their students, so it may be in the fall or the spring. The test is done at school in a group setting, takes about 30-45 mins to complete, and is taken on a computer or tablet. Ask your Principal for details. Charter and private school students have, in past years, been allowed to request testing for a nominal fee if they are considering switching to a District-run neighborhood school (email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Since 2015, our District uses the shortened, Screening Form version of the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT Level 8, which is for 2nd grade) and not the full battery (long version). The District no longer uses the Raven Progressive Matrices test for GATE identification (it was a non-verbal test designed to measure abstract thinking, spatial reasoning, and cognitive functioning). Find information about GATE testing in San Diego Unified here.
The Screening Form of the CogAT has 3 parts: 1) VERBAL: Verbal/Picture Analogies, 2) QUANTITATIVE: Number Analogies, and 3) NON-VERBAL: Figure Matrices. It is a sub-set of just 3 out of the 9 sections in the full battery CogAT (see this graphic). The scores from the 3 parts of the test are combined into one composite score that is used in the District's identification process (see below). Parents are not told the 3 scores, only the general range that their student's composite score falls into.
It is very important to know that for 2nd graders, the entire test is actually non-verbal (even for the VERBAL part of the test) because it relies on pictures to ask the questions, rather than using written or spoken language. This prevents English language learners from being disadvantaged in the test. In addition, because it measures reasoning abilities instead of testing the student’s knowledge, it is considered to be fair to all students.
According to the test authors, the CogAT measures general and specific reasoning abilities that reflect the overall efficiency of cognitive processes and strategies that are “closely related to an individual’s success in school”.
Because it is a test of cognitive ability (rather than academic achievement) there is nothing you can study to try to “pass” the short CogAT screening test, other than to ensure that all the 2nd graders understand what an “analogy” is. Read more about the difference between ability and achievement tests below.
A word of caution about searching online for CogAT practice tests – those focus on the full battery test which is not the test that our 2nd graders take - so they are not even applicable. The CogAT is not the same for every grade level either. It is unnecessary and unadvisable to stress out about practicing to take the test. In any case, in the interests of fairness, it is best for every student to take the test on an even, level playing field, so as not to bias the results in anyone’s favor. Read more in this article on testing posted on Hoagies Gifted website.
After testing, the District uses a computer algorithm to access the student record and pull the composite CogAT score (a single number) plus data from the math and English Language Arts portions of your child’s Standards Based Report Card (SBRC) into a scoring matrix. If the total matrix score is 135 (or more) points the student is recommended for the Seminar Program. A score of 121 (or more) points means recommendation for GATE Cluster. Find the "Short Guides" to GATE Seminar and Cluster here. You can also read the District's "Standards for GATE Program" policy document (AR 6172.2) on the Downloads page here.
Families should receive a letter from their home school with the results before the end of the school year. Watch out for this letter so you don't miss it (it could be in your child's backpack or mailed to your home or you may need to pick it up in person in the school office). Check with your school office if you don't get one because some action may be required before the end of the school year.
For new Seminar-identified students, if the home school does not offer any Seminar classes, you may use the “Seminar Intent to Enroll” process (before the summer recess begins) in order to request to switch in the fall to the closest neighborhood school that does.
Especially since the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) legislation in California in 2014 (when the language in the state Education Code about GATE was repealed) decisions about identifying and serving gifted students are left entirely up to individual school districts. Our District has decentralized that decision-making even further by going to a site-based model for gifted education, where Principals make the decisions about GATE at their own schools.
In San Diego Unified, there is no longer any GATE department, GATE manager, or staff to handle the identification process, so students are assigned to either the Seminar or GATE Cluster program, depending upon the total number of points the student obtains in the automated scoring matrix.
Appeals are handled at individual school sites by the Principal, along with all decisions about placement in Seminar or GATE Cluster classrooms. The District has developed a written appeals process that is included in the Principal's GATE Handbook (available to be viewed by parents upon request to their Principal).
Not every school site offers GATE classes, and Principals can decide whether to group gifted students or distribute them across different classrooms. Best practice indicates that gifted students should be grouped and assigned to classrooms taught by experienced GATE-certified teachers who will differentiate their teaching to meet their special needs.
No one score on any one test (even an IQ test) can define the knowledge, ability, or potential of any student. Nor should referrals for GATE be entirely determined by parent or teacher recommendations (which can be biased). According to the California Department of Education, best practices support using more than one factor to identify GATE students. Achievement, intelligence quotient (IQ), ability, and other test scores; motivation; parent/guardian, student, and teacher recommendations; classroom observations; and portfolio assessment are some of the possible factors a district may use to identify GATE students.
Many districts use high academic achievement as a key factor for identifying students for their gifted program, but it does depend on how the particular school district defines giftedness and what services it has decided it will provide. Some districts consider intellectual or specific academic ability (highly advanced levels of performance in math or English language arts) and others also consider ability in visual or performing arts, creativity, or leadership. See for example the gifted program and identification process for Los Angeles Unified.
According to District Administrative Procedure AR6172(a) that went into effect in Feb 2018: Students may be recommended for the GATE program by administrators, teachers, counselors,other staff, or parents/guardians. Identification is made under three state-established criteria selected by the district to provide an equal opportunity for all students to be considered for participation in the GATE Program.
The three categories are:
You can read the 2 Board of Education approved GATE Administrative Procedure documents that are posted on the Downloads page here.
Best practices in gifted identification are characterized by a high sensitivity rate that “finds” all of the kids it’s supposed to find (Dr. Scott Peters). Another point emphasized by experts in gifted testing and identification is the importance of using local (instead of national) norms. What does that mean?
Norm-referenced tests (like the CogAT screener) are designed to compare and rank test-takers in relation to one another. In other words, norms provide a basis for comparing the individual student with a group. Unless your gifted program will serve a national audience, there is no reason to use national norms.
Despite the diversity in the student population across schools and geographic areas in San Diego Unified, the District has said that it is using national norms to score their CogAT screener test. So the District is ranking our students scores compared to the top students nationally, instead of locally. This could potentially under-identify gifted students or create inequality in GATE identification, especially since the CogAT score is so heavily weighted and accounts for almost all of the points in the District's multi-factor identification matrix.
What is Recommended?
When identifying the students who need advanced academic interventions, program coordinators may wish to use the local student population, rather than national norms, as a comparison group. According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC 2019) “Students with gifts and talents perform—or have the capability to perform—at higher levels compared to others [emphasis added] of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains” (p. 1). When comparing a student’s performance to that of others, defining those “others” as peers in the local student population is a reasonable choice. This approach is especially useful in schools that serve economically, linguistically, ethnically, and/ or racially diverse populations. (Source: Identifying Students for Gifted and Advanced Academic Services Using Universal Screening and Local Norms by Joel McIntosh, Laila Y. Sanguras, Ph.D.)
According to the NAGC: "Local norm comparisons also are consistent with the definition of giftedness first advanced in the influential U.S. Department of Education “National Excellence” report, which recommended identifying student abilities only in comparison “with others of their age, experience, or environment.” Today, many schools draw their students from local neighborhood attendance zones that commonly are segregated by income, race, and ethnicity. This is why local norms work. By identifying talent in every building, gifted populations get closer to mirroring the larger student population."
What Does the CogAT Manual Say About Local Norms?
" In some school systems, the characteristics of the student population differ markedly from those of a national sample of school-aged children. When national norms are used in these school systems, the scores of students on both achievement and ability tests are likely to be skewed toward the high or low extremes of the score distribution. For example, some schools draw the major part of their student body from homes where the parental levels of education are very high. In schools like these, scores based on national norms for both achievement and ability tests are likely to cluster in the above-average range so that only limited discriminations can be made in the relative standings of students. In such schools, local percentile norms, which can be ordered as a special scoring service, provide a useful addition to national norms for making educational decisions." (p. 108 in Using the CogAT Screening Form 7 - Version 5 published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Achievement tests measure what a student has already learned, and whether they are more advanced than other students in their grade level. You can study and practice to prepare for achievement tests. They can be formative (i.e., quizzes taken every now and then to measure progress) or summative (i.e., final exams taken at the end of the year). Familiar examples of achievement tests include the SAT, ACT or GRE (or even a driver’s test). They’re not intended to measure how a student thinks or determine their potential. Doing well on an achievement test shows that the student is learning what they are supposed to be learning in school. As an example here in California, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System (which includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment or SBAC) was implemented in 2014 for grades 3-8 and 11 to replace the older STAR achievement tests.
Ability tests can assess cognitive and motor skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and are not the result of any specific instructional program. So, they can’t really be studied for or practiced in advance in the way that achievement tests can be. Ability tests predict the potential for academic success and often challenge the test taker to mentally manipulate symbols, numbers and the written language. Common examples of ability tests used for GATE identification include the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), Raven's Progressive Matrices, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 5th Edition (WISC-V), Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT), or the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales. Cognitive skills are not really learned in the same way that academic skills are; however, you can work on improving weak executive function, or exercising your brain’s ability to process, analyze and retain information.
Components of General Intelligence
In psychology, general intelligence is considered to be a combination of what is known as fluid and crystallized intelligence.
Crystallized intelligence is DEDUCTIVE. It is the ability to use learned knowledge that was previously acquired through education and experience. Crystallized intelligence correlates with abilities that depend on knowledge and experience, such as vocabulary, facts, and general information. It appears to be centered in regions in the brain involving long-term memory e.g., the hippocampus.
Fluid intelligence is INDUCTIVE. It is the ability to solve novel reasoning problems and is correlated with a number of important skills such as comprehension, problem solving, and learning. Fluid intelligence generally correlates with measures of abstract reasoning and puzzle solving. Fluid intelligence depends on working memory (i.e., the temporary holding of information for processing) and is centered in the “higher, thinking brain”, the pre-frontal cortex.
No matter the kind of test "There is no more important question to ask when we talk about tests than: What is the purpose of your test? And who will use the scores to make what decision?" says this expert (Dr. Andrew Ho, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education). He emphasizes the three W’s of testing, which are: Who is making what diagnosis to inform which decision?