What is Gifted?

There are many theories about what it means to be gifted and many definitions of "gifted" that come from them.  States and school districts differ on definitions of giftedness and on criteria for identifying children for gifted programs (if they actually have either one).  Because of these differences, there is disagreement in the field of gifted education regarding what programs for gifted students should look like and how they should be implemented in schools.  This lack of consistency in so many areas can make it very confusing and frustrating for parents and teachers of gifted children, as well as the gifted children themselves.  

In order to appropriately serve gifted children in public schools, and identify them for gifted programs, it is necessary for parents and teachers to be provided with the appropriate information and tools regarding what programs should be looking for.   Here are some important definitions:

U.S. Department of Education (2009)

(22) GIFTED AND TALENTED- The term gifted and talented, when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities (p. 107).

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains.  Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).
The development of ability or talent is a lifelong process. It can be evident in young children as exceptional performance on tests and/or other measures of ability or as a rapid rate of learning, compared to other students of the same age, or in actual achievement in a domain. As individuals mature through childhood to adolescence, however, achievement and high levels of motivation in the domain become the primary characteristics of their giftedness. Various factors can either enhance or inhibit the development and expression of abilities. To read the NAGC position paper, Redefining Giftedness for a New Century:  Shifting the Paradigm click here. 
A person's giftedness should not be confused with the means by which giftedness is observed or assessed. Parent, teacher, or student recommendations, a high mark on an examination, or a high IQ score are not giftedness; they may be a signal that giftedness exists. Some of these indices of giftedness are more sensitive than others to differences in the person's environment.

Link to NAGC List of State Definitions