Interventions for Gifted Teens Who Are Underachieving

The underachievement of gifted students is a perplexing phenomenon. Too often, for no apparent reason, students who show great academic promise fail to perform at a level commensurate with their previously documented abilities, frustrating both parents and teachers (Whitmore, 1986). The process of defining underachievement, identifying underachieving gifted students, and explaining the reasons for this underachievement continues to stir controversy among practitioners, researchers, and clinicians. Practitioners who responded to a National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented needs assessment identified underachievement as a major research problem (Renzulli, Reid, & Gubbins, 1992). Despite this interest, the underachievement of gifted students remains an enigma.

Academic underachievement has been a persistent area of concern for educators, parents, and students for at least the past 35 years. The gifted underachiever has been described as “one of the greatest social wastes of our culture” (Gowan, 1955, p. 247). Beyond the social cost, however, there are personal setbacks as well — opportunities for advanced educational experiences and personal development are thwarted by academic underachievement. Today, there is no problem more perplexing or frustrating than the situation in which a bright child cannot or will not perform at an academic level commensurate with his or her intellectual ability.

Definitions of gifted underachievement as a discrepancy between potential and performance are by far the most common. However, if one accepts the general premise that underachievement involves a discrepancy between ability and achievement; a need exists to operationally define these key concepts.

A common method of defining ability involves the use of an IQ test, such as the Wechsler Scales. However, the criteria needed to identify giftedness vary from state to state and from district to district. In some states, students must achieve an IQ score at or above a certain cut-off in order to acquire the gifted label. Many states, including Colorado, mandate the use of multiple criteria to determine giftedness. Because different school systems use different criteria to label a student gifted, the populations of students who are identified as gifted vary; and, in some cases, they are not comparable. This phenomenon is sometimes called “geographic giftedness” (Borland, 1989).

Read the full article here

Putting the Research to Use
Parents and teachers working with students to reverse the underachievement pattern may wish to consider a number of factors. Results from this study (Read the full article here) indicate that it is important to identify the underachiever’s areas of strength and talent. Personal interests can motivate the student to learn and provide an avenue for learning various skills related to school success. Providing appropriately challenging curriculum during the period of underachievement also appears to be important. School personnel should consider gifted underachievers candidates for gifted education services and/or advanced classes. The underachievers in this study also seemed to respond well to parents and teachers who had high expectations, provided calm and consistent guidance, and maintained a positive, objective regard for the student. The study’s findings indicate that academic underachievement can be reversed as a result of modifications on the part of both the student and the school.

If you’re interested in reading a book about emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development from early adolescence through teen years we recommend Your Adolescent by David Pruitt M.D., AACAP

About the Book

Parents, teachers, and mental health workers will find the answers to these- and many other-questions in this forthright yet compassionate guide to helping your adolescent through the tumultuous teen years. From peer pressure and self-esteem to experimentation with sex, alcohol, and drugs, this invaluable resource covers a wide range of practical issues. Here as well is information on more serious obstacles to a teen’s development that may require professional intervention, such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and disruptive behavioral disorders. As surely as every child will become a teen, every person that must relate to a teen will find this book a reliable, indispensable guide to the ups and downs of adolescence.

Another good resource for parents and educators in combating underachievement is the work of Dr. Sylvia Rimm. Her articles and books on the subject can be found at this link:


Parents Requesting an Initial Evaluation for Special Education

Who is Eligible for Special Education Services?

To be eligible for special education, a child must have a disability and must need special education services and related services. If a child has a disability but does not need special education services, the child is not eligible for special education under IDEA but may be eligible for protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

As a parent, guardian or advocate, you have a legal right to request that your public school evaluate your child for special education. Federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as amended in 2004 (IDEA), gives you that legal right. Parents may request an evaluation in writing, with copies to the principal and the school district’s director or coordinator of special education.

ASK Resource Center provides an excellent resource for parents requesting an initial evaluation including a sample letter to the school district.

Click here to access the PDF!

At Turning Point Assessments, we are often asked by parents to provide an independent assessment in addition to the one done at the school. We always inform parents of their rights according to IDEA and how our services differ from those provided in the school setting. When an IEP assessment is in progress, we coordinate with the school to supplement their testing. Our assessments can dig deeper into other co-occurring conditions, explore the cognitive or neurodevelopmental underpinnings of the problem, and provide a diagnosis that can lead to services not be covered by IDEA. Some parents seek out our services instead of the school IEP assessment. In these cases, we provide the testing and assessment required by IDEA and also do a “differential” assessment to rule out other possible causes or co-occurring conditions. Parents are able to take our assessment back to the school to help determine what supports are possible as a result.

Orton-Gillingham: The “Multisensory” Approach to Teaching Reading

Finally! We’ve found an article that nicely explains the Orton-Gillingham reading program and how it helps children with dyslexia and other reading issues. Click here to learn more about how Orton-Gillingham works, including their focus and where to find it.

“Orton-Gillingham is a well-regarded approach to teaching.” We particularly like the author’s use of the word approach. Sometimes the word “program” can be a bit misleading and it’s important for parents to know that Orton-Gillingham is an instructional approach intended primarily for use with those who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing associated with dyslexia.

If you are a parent wanting to help your child, you’ll first want to know what program their school uses. After assessing a student to determine their reading skills, students are then taught in small groups with others of a similar skill levels. “Instructors follow a highly structured approach that teaches skills in a particular order. This order is based on an understanding of how children naturally develop language.”

The article also points you to other methods that teachers and specialists may be using.

What Research Supports Orton-Gillingham?

“One of the reasons for the lack of research is the fact that OG is an approach, and not a program of instruction.”

Margie Gillis, President of Literacy How, explains further:

With a program, teachers follow a “scripted” manual that lays out a defined sequence of skills to be taught in a specific order. Teachers must be trained in the program by the publisher.

Programs may be based on an instructional approach. There are several reading programs that are influenced by OG. They include the Wilson Reading System, the Barton Reading Program and the Lindamood–Bell Program.

These types of scripted programs can potentially be researched. The instruction is uniform and used the same way for all students. A well-designed study may be able to show positive results for kids who are best suited to the program.

An approach, such as OG, is just the opposite. It’s an intervention that’s individualized to each child. It’s flexible, rather than prescribed, because it’s based on a problem-solving process. That process starts with identifying the child’s learning difficulty. The next step is to develop a plan to address that difficulty.

Read the full article here

Article Source:

Peg Rosen for Understood: for learning and attention issues. Orton-Gillingham: What You Need to Know. Retrieved on January 25th, 2018. Retrieved from: