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Identify Student Needs

As indicated in State Statute and Administrative Rule, Wisconsin public school districts have a legal obligation to develop an identification process to determine needs of students with gifts and talents and to then provide programming to match these needs. This process must be systematic and continuous from kindergarten through twelfth grade and must consider all students in each of the five areas:

  • General intellectual
  • Specific academic
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Visual and performing arts

Recall, also, that s. PI 8.01(2)(t)2, Wis. Admin. Rule requires that the data collected must:

  • Include both quantitative and qualitative sources.
  • Be responsive to all students.
  • Match the purpose for which the information is being used.

In this approach, we gather information about a student from multiple sources over time, each source serving a particular purpose. In other words, we compile a complete and clear picture of students' strengths and challenges so that we can respond to their identified needs. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) refers to this as creating a “photo album” of a student rather than simply taking a “snapshot.” Wis. Admin Rule PI 8.01(2)(t)2 calls this a "pupil profile" and it should include both academic and behavioral information.

We suggest that you use your school district's Equitable Multi-level Systems of Supports framework as a systematic way to create these profiles. The process incorporates the steps summarized in the Wisconsin Equitable Multi-Levels Systems of Supports - formerly RtI - Roadmap. Further clarification is provided in the figure below, although all recursive steps are not depicted. Additional details for universal screeners, balanced assessment, targeted screeners, building pupil profiles, and using data to make programming decisions can be obtained by clicking on the topics at the bottom of this page.

Using RtI to Identify Student Needs

From the visual above we can see that we begin to create a pupil profile using information from universal screeners. If this profile gives us a clear picture of the student, no additional data is required. We simply use this information to determine what curriculum comes next so that the student will continue to grow and then decide on the instruction/programming/services that will promote that growth. We monitor the student's progress during these learning experiences to ensure that the s/he is learning as expected. If s/he is, we continue. If s/he is not, we make adjustments. This scenario is represented in the top pathway.

If the profile created from universal screeners does not give us a clear picture of the student, we gather additional information using targeted screeners.Get a copy of commonly used targeted screeners for each of the five areas of giftedness. Once we have a comprehensive pupil profile, we make decisions about appropriate learning opportunities as summarized in the previous paragraph. This scenario is represented in the bottom pathway.

Implications for Practice - Talent Development
The identification process described above focuses on determining student need rather than labeling students. This represents a shift in thinking from what we may have done before. It reflects the ideas that potential and ability are dynamic as discussed in What is Giftedness? and that gifted education should therefore be responsive and fluid as discussed in Key Characteristics of Effective Gifted Education Plans.

This approach really does make sense if we think about it. It moves us away from the idea that students are either gifted or not gifted, and from something we only determine at a certain age or grade. This outdated notion represents a static view of ability and ignores the reality that children develop at different rates. It results in determining that students are "in" or "out" of a gifted program.

Instead, RtI recognizes that students enter school with different early experiences, with different strengths, from different cultures, and with varying developmental trajectories. It represents a talent development approach reflective of Gagne's model (1985, 1993). He believed that children have an underlying set of abilities, aptitudes, or gifts. With encouragement and support, a child's talents emerge from participating in experiences guided by teachers, parents, and others.

Recognizing that talent generally emerges from experience helps reinforce the idea that our schools must provide students with a rich, invigorating environment. It is critical to not only expose students to engaging, complex material, but to instruct them in higher level skills, as well. We teach, we give students an opportunity to practice, and we observe how they interact with the content. In this way, we find kids we have often overlooked.

Pointer: Shifting practice to talent development requires effectively communicating the change to educators and families. It is often helpful to provide concrete examples of differentiation in the classroom (i.e., how is work qualitatively different for high ability/high potential students?) so that educators and families can see what it looks like. It is also important to be clear about what non-classroom based interventions / programming / services are part of the school district's continuum of services for these students.

Gagne, F. (1985). Giftedness and talent: Remining and reexamination of the definition. Gifted Child Quarterly, 29(3), 103-119.

Gagne, F. (1993). Constructs and models pertaining to exceptional human abilities. In K.S. Heller, F.J. Monks, A.H. Passow (Eds). International handbook of research and Development of giftedness and talent. New York: Pergamon.

Tomlinson, C.A. & McTighe. J. (2006). Integrating differentiation and understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


For questions about this information, contact Mark Schwingle (608) 267-9273