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Gifted Students

The information for Gifted Students was created by the Graduation Guidelines Special Populations Work Group. View the Work Group report.



This document presents research-based recommendations and strategies that address gifted student’s needs at the middle and high school levels and provides specific suggestions for all stakeholders in the process. It is important to know where each student is heading (career pathway and/or institution) as well as to be aware of appropriate experiences or educational requirements, aligned with a student’s career or college plan that may not be offered within the high school’s coursework options. A student’s ICAP, aligned with his/her ALP, can be personalized to include additional advanced coursework and experiences as well as post-secondary opportunities. The ALP and ICAP may be merged if conditions of the ALP are satisfied.

Work Group Members:

  • Yael Abrahammson, Cherry Creek Schools
  • Jennie Belval, School Board Member, Boulder Valley Schools
  • Cynthia Bolt, Summit County Schools
  • Allen Golden, Delta School District
  • Amy Graefe, Greeley Schools
  • Caryla Holt, Lewis/Palmer School District
  • Jen Hufman
  • Lynn Mather, Durango School District

  • Greg Moldow, Denver Public Schools
  • Michael Pettersch, Adams 12 Schools
  • Rebecca Pfingsten, EL Paso 11
  • Eric Rippeth, Eagle County Schools
  • Brian Weaver, Denver Public Schools
  • Jacquelin Medina, CDE, Facilitator
  • Wendy Leader, CDE/2X
  • Julia, Watson, Gifted Education Resource Consultant (NW Region) and CDE, Facilitator


The Exceptional Children’s Education Act (ECEA) mandates state requirements that address the needs of gifted learners (Rule 12.02):

  • Matching strengths and interests of gifted students
  • Alignment of assessment data to programming options
  • Structures by which gifted students are served (in or out of school)
  • Support in differentiation – acceleration,
  • Affective and guidance support systems
  • Diverse content options in areas of strength
  • Methods for articulation
  • Pre-collegiate or pre-advanced placement
  • ALP development and annual review
  • Post-secondary options for secondary students

Implementation Recommendations and Key Messages

As gifted students work toward or are offered opportunities to complete high school coursework early, five effective, consistent recommendations are found in the research. These recommendations are grounded in guiding beliefs that address the needs of all students.

1. Maintain a school culture that continues to value the recognition and development of exceptional talent throughout the middle and high school years.

An effective teacher, counselor, and/or specialist can help a gifted student in several key ways:

  • recognize the student as being advanced in his/her field
  • point the student to new challenges and make sure school remains a positive experience
  • make sure that child is evaluated accurately for readiness to be accelerated

2. Implement pathways for reaching post-secondary outcomes that are flexible and meet the needs of individual gifted students.

A student’s ALP and ICAP is critical for determining the timeline for graduation and appropriate coursework that may include a blend of concurrent enrollment and/or early exit as well as career-related internships or opportunities. Some districts may offer opportunities for gifted students to demonstrate proficiency toward completion of graduation requirements prior to the typical four-year high school program. These opportunities could include:

  • An early enrollment option that would allow them to attend institutions of higher education or trade school in order to continue their education. Consider early college entrance (after accelerated high school graduation) or dual credit/concurrent enrollment
  • Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • Capstone and/or Portfolio Projects
  • Extended learning opportunities beyond those required for high school graduation (both in and out of the building, with proper support and personnel) include career-related internships, job shadowing, career exploration, volunteering or community service projects, independent study, academic competitions, part-time or career related jobs, and working with an expert
  • A performance-based diploma or proficiency-based diploma. One student may graduate in three years, another in five, but every student graduates prepared for future success
  • The “Move On When Ready” option (Grand Canyon Diploma, AZ) which provides a pathway for students to receive a high school diploma when they prove college and career readiness on academic exams, rather than just accumulating “seat time” and high school credits:
  • Credit by Examination (CBE) or Credit by Assessment. Students can skip one or more courses by performing well on a test of the material that is covered in those courses
  • Career pathways program: academic programming with vocational studies or placement
  • Competency-Based Pathways: when a student has demonstrated proficiency on the standards required for graduation, that student should have a plan that helps him/her continue to learn and build on his/her strengths, skills and interests for rest of his/her high school career

3. Support broad-based understanding and implementation of evidence-based practices that impact instruction and performance for secondary gifted students.

Districts could consider differentiation (setting high expectations when delivering instruction, fostering engaging learning environments and meaningful relationships with students, intentionally matching instructions strategies to learning goals), acceleration (i.e. grade skipping, AP, early college enrollment) or radical acceleration (graduation 3 or more years earlier than usual), telescoping (completing one/several year’s curriculum in less time), or compacting (skipping units in which student demonstrates proficiency).

4. Ensure that guidance and career counseling programs incorporate awareness and individual attention to the most common research-based affective needs of gifted students.

Gifted students, like those in other unique student populations, may require flexibility or alternative pathways to address needs within their area/s of strength and attention to the development of personal skills which lead to an understanding of self. Common needs found in research about gifted students’ social-emotional/affective needs include: multi-potentiality, perfectionism, stress and anxiety, early emergence (of talent), and hypersensitivity. Students also must build personal and social competencies, leadership dispositions and skills, cultural competence decisions and skills, and communication skills.

5. Capitalize on the potential of a strong support system of staff, family, and community members who assist and mentor gifted students as they reflect on personal and career goals and make adjustments to their post-secondary outcomes.

Often, students who are different from their classmates in one or more ways can feel isolated. Students may also encounter issues with systems that do not recognize the student’s gifted designation. They may feel frustrated, lost, not valued, and may need a support system they can go to; they need to know where to turn for help or a listening ear. Other students/peers, parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, and administrators who know and understand what it is to be gifted can be an invaluable resource.

Guiding Questions

  1. Do you have a mechanism for accurately evaluation the readiness of a student to accelerate?
  2. Are these learning demonstrations reflected in a rubric?
  3. Is the student advance according to the rubric?
  4. Do you already have teaching strategies, pathways, and programs that will challenge this student?
  5. If a student meets district graduation requirements early, and if he/she is postsecondary and workforce ready, do you have a plan/requirement that clearly states if/how the student can graduate early? Alternatively, do you have flexible and/or alternate pathways and programs in place to challenge the student until he/she can graduate?
  6. Which one program could you successfully strengthen or create to meet the needs of these students?

Best Practices, Tools and Resources

View the Resources page.