How Are Gifted Students Graded?

The school meeting the needs of your gifted student should also understand the value of ongoing, individualized assessments, says an educator at The Roeper School.

Independent schools can offer a unique approach that recognizes the educational needs of gifted students and provides an individualized approach to help students thrive. When selecting a school for your gifted child, be aware that private and independent schools in Michigan are not required to follow assessment methods mandated by the Michigan Department of Education.

Be prepared to ask prospective schools how they assess their students’ progress, suggests Christopher Federico, Head of School at The Roeper School, an independent PreK-12 school for gifted students with campuses in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.

“Parents should talk to the teachers at the school and to other families who are there. Take a look at examples of the work the students are doing,” Federico says, adding that learning what destinations the students reach following graduation can offer insight, too.

“If it is an elementary school, what high schools and programs are they going on to? Or, if the students are attending through grade 12, what university destinations are they going to?” It’s not all about how many are getting into Harvard, Yale and Princeton, but if they are going to the destination that suits them the most — and if they are ready for that destination, he says.

“At Roeper, we do have more than our fair share going to Ivy League Schools, but many others will go on to other places to study things ranging from aeronautics to fashion design to social justice,” says Federico.

Assessing the work of gifted students is a continual process

Educators at The Roeper School recognize the range of achievement experienced by gifted students — a sixth-grade student may be working at a high school level in math and be at grade level in reading, for example. While they use some recognized metrics to report core competencies, Roeper teachers also use more complex and individualized assessment methods.

At Roeper, the primary purpose of assessments is to promote learning, providing feedback to students and guiding the educational approaches used by instructors.

“Assessment information is gathered by teachers to determine how well their students are doing and the data informs how they teach. They’ll ask themselves if there are concepts they need to reteach or approach differently,” explains Federico. “In an independent school context and at Roeper, the focus is centered on the child, and that’s important. Teachers are continually adapting curriculum methods to the children in front of them.”

Lower School is focused on experiential learning and growth

In Roeper’s Lower School, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students learn experientially — and, at this level, they do not get letter grades. “Teachers assess based on what they see every day, on the conversations they have, the questions students are asking and the way they are working in small groups,” Federico says. Parents receive detailed feedback during multiple conferences and through regular reports highlighting their student’s areas of excellence and those needing improvement.


“Parents appreciate this because the focus is on improved student learning, what is going on in the classroom, their child’s specific strengths and how they can partner with the school to improve their child’s experience,” he says. “It’s very individualized to their child and not about measuring against the performance of another student.”

Middle School assessments continue with observation and detailed reporting

The introduction of grading begins subtly in middle school. The Roeper School, for instance, starts assigning grades only from 7th grade. Even with this shift, the focus remains on individualized assessment.

Recognizing the diverse talents of gifted students, Roeper provides a robust curriculum that includes core subjects, electives, and unique interdisciplinary studies. For example, a project on climate change might integrate concepts from English, science, math, and social studies — and often students can display mastery of the subject in a variety of appropriate ways.

The Roeper School
Photo credit: The Roeper School

“Not every student will sit down and write the same test to determine what we hoped they would learn,” Federico explains. “Some kids will do well on a test, and some will not, and that difference might have nothing to do with how well they understand the information.”

Students may write an essay — or they may do a presentation or a dramatic interpretation, and the assessment remains focused on detailed, individualized feedback about what is going well and what areas of growth can be explored.

Upper School students demonstrate specialized approaches to subject mastery

As gifted students move on to high school, they begin to consider their post-graduation options, and at Roeper, they’re engaging in increasingly complex material, including the core competencies of humanities, social sciences, English, math and physical sciences.

“But the emphasis is also on applications to real-world problem solving,” says Federico. “They might have a test in math, but they’re also applying the mathematical principles to real-world problems or exploring how they are used by experts in their field. They may demonstrate understanding of physics by building bridges and applying weight to test their design.”

The Roeper School
Photo credit: The Roeper School

A distinctive feature of the Roeper curriculum is the George A. Roeper Project, a capstone project during which 12th-grade students can undertake in-depth research in an area of their interest, ranging from STEM to social activism. This project demonstrates the school’s commitment to applying knowledge across disciplines and developing well-rounded, socially conscious citizens.

Throughout their child’s educational career at Roeper, parents can also log in to the portal to see in real time how their child is progressing.

Think beyond grades when selecting a school for your gifted child

When seeking the right educational environment for your gifted student, recognize the school that thinks broadly about student engagement and assessment, and consider using this as your starting point.

Gifted students may think more in-depth and make more complex connections. However, Federico says all students can benefit from learning through open-ended tasks and experiencing continual assessments to improve learning outcomes.

“If a teacher decides up front to use a test to assess a student’s work, that puts a box around what students can do, and the kind of knowledge they are going to focus on,” he says. “We want students to take the learning in the classroom and extend and create novel solutions to problems and make new connections individual to them, yet still relevant to the next step of their academic journey.”

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