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Gifted screening tests can impact students with deep psychological toll, experts warn


Each year, province-wide screening of gifted students begins in late October or early November. In Halton, hundreds of students in Gr-4 are taking CCAT-7 tests this year. However, experts warn about the misinformation and myths surrounding the screening process, causing enormous stress and anxiety for test-takers.

The Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test 7 (CCAT7) is an abilities screening test used 'to provide reliable and valid information to help teachers further develop class profiles and programs for students.' According to experts, though it assists in the gifted screening process by measuring 'cognitive reasoning across verbal, nonverbal, and quantitative domains,' gifted testing is a misnomer.

Several parents interviewed by Oakville News believe school boards should educate families about the testing's purpose and what options and supports they have available depending on the child's score-- months before the testing date. 

Louise Gleeson, a registered psychotherapist and parent of a child identified as "Gifted," mentions that giftedness is not the ability to perform; it's a learning style that is considered an exceptionality and that can benefit from alternative learning environments.

"In short, we do not need to be adding additional layers of stress to our children by giving the impression that you can study your way into a gifted designation," Gleeson summarizes.

A local mom shares that parents have their kids study for this test, "People have different perspectives. My friend does think it is superior and is proud of his child." She suggests the 'Gifted' name can be changed to some neutral word to help parents understand the issue better.

A parent formerly identified as "Gifted" explains that many children identified the same struggle academically/socially in traditional learning environments. That is why a gifted class is a unique education placement that can be life-changing for only those who need it.  

Some moms who have seen posts with parents looking for tutors or books to help prepare for the test believe such efforts invalidate the measures.

Experts like Jessica Lim states that "Giftedness" is neurodiversity, and often such an asynchronous development can be a burdensome gift. High achievement does not equal giftedness and vice versa." She adds that CCAT-7 does not capture all Gifted profiles, especially those with Anxiety, ADHD, ASD, and LD. Lim is a parent of two Gifted children and a Special Education Resource Teacher at Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board.

Though Halton District School Board (HDSB) school administrators provide a letter to all Grade 4 families explaining the purpose and timelines for this assessment, several families who have recently migrated to Canada want board-wise additional measures to orient the parents.

"There should be a board-wise orientation well in advance where we can ask questions, understand the long-term pros and cons of the testing and its implication for the child's future," says Rina Bhatt, an Oakville mom with a child taking the test this year at a local school.

"I am still grappling to understand what it means and don't know how even to explain it to my child," adds Bhatt.

When contacted, Colette Ruddock, HDSB's Superintendent of Education for Special Education Services, confirmed, "Grade 4 teachers provide an opportunity for students to try a sample practice test before writing the actual test. No additional preparation is required."

Nicole Price-Thomas, a registered psychologist in the province of Ontario providing comprehensive psychoeducational assessments, gifted assessments and counselling for children, adolescents and adults at her Oakville practice, remarks that some miscommunication has been perpetuated that the label is "needed" for success.

"There is much social comparison," Price-Thomas adds. Drawing from her experience working with Peel District School Board for 13 years, she warns that if the kids "are consumed with anxiety and depression because they are struggling to keep up in a program they did not truly qualify for, they will have a hard time doing well."

Her advice is that genuinely successful people find a way to integrate their cognitive or artistic strengths with interpersonal, social and communication skills. This is what parents should encourage their kids to aspire to.

"There is an author I stumbled across that talks about accepting who your kids are and not putting our expectations on them. Parents may find her book - Raise the Child You've Got—Not the One You Want: Why Everyone Thrives When Parents Lead with Acceptance, really helpful," Price-Thomas signs off!