Frequently Asked Questions


1. Advanced Curriculum/High Ability Program – What does Indiana law require us to do? 

  • Identify students in the general intellectual and specific academic domains, K-12.   (In Zionsville, we identify students in three categories:  general intellectual, language arts, and math.) 
  • Use multifaceted assessments (ID) that include high ability students from poverty, limited English proficiency, and all ethnic groups
  • Appropriately differentiate our curriculum and instruction for students
  • Provide professional development to teachers and counselors on the specific needs of gifted students 
  •  Periodically conduct a systematic program assessment
  • Create a guidance and counseling plan
  • Report on our program effectiveness, specific use of funds, and student achievement.  

2. What is the definition of a High Ability student?  

  • “High Ability student” is one who: “performs at, or shows the potential for performing at, an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one domain when compared to other students of the same age, experience, or environment; and is characterized by exceptional gifts, talents, motivation, or interests.” (as defined by Indiana Code)
  •  Nationally, the terms Academically Talented, Gifted/Talented, and Gifted are all used to describe gifted students. In ZCS middle schools, we refer to students who are gifted as “high ability” because that is the term used by the Indiana Department of Education.  In elementary we identify students who need advanced curriculum/instruction as they are still developing their academic skills 

3. How are students identified in Zionsville?

Multifaceted Student Identification Plan

  • We identify students for math and/or language arts enrichment beginning the kindergarten year. (At the middle school level, students in HA math will also take HA science; students identified for HA language arts will also take HA social studies/humanities. HA high school students participate in a wide array of Advanced Placement courses of their choosing so long as they meet established prerequisites.)   
  • We use both qualitative (characteristics) measures and quantitative measures (test scores) in identification.  
  • We follow national best practice guidelines by using at least three types of measures. 

Who Decides? When Does Identification Take Place?  

  •  An identification committee rather than a single person makes placement decisions based upon students’ needs.
  • At the elementary level, the identification committee is made up of teachers with High Ability endorsements from each school and the Director of Academics.  
  • At the middle school level, the identification committee is made up of High Ability teachers from each middle school, counselors from each middle school, and the Chief Academic Officer.
  • Elementary and middle school identification processes begin during the winter of each school year and take place over several months’ time. Kindergarten students are served all year based on initial screeners. All students are considered during the March-May timeframe and are typically officially notified in June of placement for the following school year.   

Are students automatically considered?

  • All students in grades Kdg-7th are reconsidered every year for placement the following year. 

What about already-identified students? Are they re-identified each year?  

  • Already-identified students are automatically identified for the next school year so long as they have been successful in the HA placement. Students who are identified as math-only or language-arts only are automatically considered each spring for identification in the non-HA area.

Quantitative Measures

  • The Cognitive Abilities Test™ (CogAT®), the most widely used and trusted abilities test, makes it all happen. CogAT measures abilities across the symbol systems that are most highly correlated with fluid reasoning, problem solving, and success in school. With its separate measures of Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal reasoning, this research-based and proven test provides multiple perspectives on student ability across grades K–12. The committee uses 95th percentile as one indicator that a student needs advanced curriculum and/or instruction.  

  • Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Primary Measures of Academic Progress (Primary MAP) and MAP test percentile ranks:   The NWEA test has two versions: one which is for primary grade students and one for students who have learned to read for themselves. The Primary MAP test is given to most students in kindergarten and first grades who are being considered for high ability in the next school year. The Primary MAP is taken on the computer with audio and visual supports (meaning it is read aloud to the student).  The other NWEA test (MAP) is typically given to students who are able to read independently (students in grades 2-8 and K-1 students who are already-identified HA students or who are fluent readers take this version of the NWEA test). The NWEA assessments help determine how a child is performing on state standards and as compared to peers. The test is adjusted to the student’s present level automatically and contains a full bank of questions ranging through high school level. Thus, it is a better measure of achievement for high ability students than a grade-level test of standards such as ISTEP+.   Percentile scores on the NWEA test indicate a child’s instructional achievement level in Reading and Math. If a child scores at the 50th percentile that means that his or her scores are equal to or surpass 50% of all other children in the same grade nationwide taking the same test. The 50th percentile is considered average. The committee uses 95th percentile on MAP and 98th percentile on Primary MAP as one indicator that a student needs advanced curriculum and/or instruction.  Please remember that having only one indicator does not qualify a child for identification.

Qualitative Measures  

  • Kindergarten and First Grade: Kingore Observation Inventory over a 6-week period – completed by teacher
  • K-4: Scales for Identifying Gifted Students/additional narrative feedback –  completed by teacher
  • K-4: Kingore Observation Form – completed by parents
  • 5-8: Middle School Parent Observation Form—completed by parents

4. What is the Kingore Observation Inventory?  

  •  A research-based observation tool to identify students who are gifted.
  • All Kindergarten and 1st Grade teachers have been trained to use the KOI and use it for a designated six-week period during the school year during which they observe ALL students in their class. Teachers provide enriched learning opportunities for ALL students and are trained to observe behaviors that exceed the level and complexity typical for the age group  

5. Local norms and standardized tests:  

  • Zionsville student norms on standardized tests of achievement and ability currently tend to be higher than national averages. The median score on NWEA achievement tests depending on the test, grade level, and year tested tends to be around the 75th percentile. Thus, our general (non-HA) classroom curriculum which meets students where they are academically provides all students with high achieving students and rigorous and accelerated curriculum expectations.   

6. What are the characteristics of a high ability (gifted) child? 

Kingore Categories of Gifted Characteristics 

  • Advanced Language – uses words that seem advanced for the age-level expectations; rewords own language for younger or less mature children; explains how unrelated things are similar; uses words for time concepts (clock and calendar) accurately; uses similes, metaphors, or analogies; asks questions about words.
  • Analytical Thinking – demonstrates complex or abstract thinking; analyzes household or school tasks; notices surprising depth of details about surroundings; takes apart and reassembles things or ideas with skill; expresses relationships between past and present experiences; makes up songs, stories, or riddles about experiences; organizes collections of things uniquely; likes to plan or arrange things
  • Meaning Motivation – is philosophical; asks surprisingly intellectual questions; is curious; experiments; demonstrates an unexpected depth of knowledge in one or more areas; exhibits intense task commitment and energy when pursuing interests; remembers; is independent.  
  • Perspective – explains another’s point of view; shows dimension, angle, perspective in art, writing, math solutions, or problem solving; creates complex shapes, patterns, or graphics; applies left and right without prompting; adds interesting details to enhance products.
  • Sense of Humor – says or does something indicating an unexpected, sophisticated humor; catches an adult’s subtle sense of humor; understands and uses puns and riddles; “plays” with language; develops humorous ideas to an extreme.  
  • Sensitivity – cares deeply; intense concern for human issues; tries to take action to help someone in need; expresses feelings through words or art; explains others’ feelings; displays strong sense of fairness; expresses high expectations of self and others; seems to overreact at times.  
  • Accelerated Learning – learns new things quickly with minimum practice; uses multiple characteristics when discussing items; reads passages at an advanced, fluent reading level for the age-level expectations; explains the meaning of what has been read; demonstrates an unexpected mastery of math or science concepts; uses a dictionary, encyclopedia, map, atlas, or computer to gain advanced information, creates products which seem advanced for the age-level expectations.

7.  What are some negatively perceived characteristics sometimes associated with a gifted child? 

  • Self-critical; impatient with failures
  • Critical of others or of the teacher
  • Overreacts
  • Domineers
  • Gets angry or cries if things go wrong
  •  Hands in messy work
  • Is more concerned with concept than the details
  • Refuses to accept authority
  • Refuses to do rote homework
  • Bored with routine tasks 
  • Makes jokes or puns at inappropriate times
  • Disagrees vocally with others or with the teacher about ideas and values
  •  Is nonconforming/stubborn
  • Is reluctant to move on to another topic  

8. What’s the difference between a high-achieving child and a high ability, or gifted, child?

“Identification of gifted students is clouded when concerned adults misinterpret high achievement as giftedness. High-achieving students are noticed for their on-time, neat, well-developed, and correct learning products. Adults comment on these students’ consistent high grades and note how well they acclimate to class procedures and discussions. Some adults assume these students are gifted because their school-appropriate behaviors and products surface above the typical responses of grade-level students. Educators with expertise in gifted education are frustrated trying to help other educators and parents understand that while high achievers are valuable participants whose high-level modeling is welcomed in classes, they learn differently from gifted learners. In situations in which they are respected and encouraged, gifted students’ thinking is more complex with abstract inferences and more diverse perceptions than is typical of high achievers. Articulating those differences to educators and parents can be difficult.”   

(from High Achiever, Gifted Learner, Creative Thinker, Bertie Kingore, Ph.D.)

9. What if my child is new to Zionsville Schools?   

  • Procedures vary slightly for elementary and middle school students. Please see below: 

  • For children enrolling at a ZCS elementary school:
    • Has your child already qualified in another school district as a High Ability student?  
    • If not, then you will simply enroll your child in school here, and in the spring of the school year, your child will be considered with all others for possible placement. If your child has already qualified as high ability/gifted in another school district, you will need to complete the “New Student Placement Application” which can be found under “New Student Placements” on the Advanced Curriculum webpage. The form explains what additional documentation should be attached and where it should be sent. The Academic Services Office will review the forms and make a placement decision that is best for your child consistent with our local norms for identification. This may or may not be a high ability placement.
  • For children enrolling at a ZCS middle school or the high school:
    • You will simply enroll your child in school and provide past educational records. The counselors and/or High Ability coordinator at the school will review your child’s records and make a determination of the most appropriate course schedule. This may or may not include placement in high ability classes. All students are reconsidered each spring.

10. What services or curriculum are different if a child is identified as needing advanced curriculum? 

Classroom Placement: Research shows that gifted students need to be placed with their intellectual peers, so we cluster group our students in grades 1-4. This means that we place small groups of students who need advanced curriculum instruction together with other students of mixed ability in one or more classrooms. In middle and high school, these groups become larger, and typically the entire class will consist of high ability students.  

  • The grade level math curriculum is differentiated to provide broader and deeper experiences with more choices and options for kindergartners.   Beginning in first grade, the math curriculum is accelerated by a year or more above grade level. 
  • Mathematics instruction focuses on inductive/deductive reasoning skills, work with algebra and geometry concepts, and applied problem solving. Instruction is faster-paced with fewer repetitions. Curriculum acceleration may take place through computer-based programs such as ALEKS starting in elementary grades.   
  •  Language Arts is differentiated for all elementary students in Zionsville Community Schools. Beginning in kindergarten, we assess each elementary child’s reading level and then monitor his or her growth multiple times during the year. Our teachers use the leveled reading approach to help each child learn to read at his or her instructional level. (To learn more about leveled reading, go to this link:, and type “leveled reading” in the Search box. When the page loads, you will find the “Understanding Leveled Reading” article in the middle of the page.) 
  •  Elementary and middle school language arts students do more complex analysis of text requiring higher level thinking and reasoning, in-depth study of advanced vocabulary/grammar concepts, and writing and inquiry/research projects adjusted for their level and abilities.   
    • Middle school science and social studies classes with HA student clusters typically involve accelerated curriculum, advanced concepts, enrichment opportunities, more complex texts, and broad-based conceptual connections to higher-level themes or questions. Students may utilize different texts or resources from those found in the general curriculum.

    • Units of study for HA students in all areas include broad-based thematic connections to elevate understanding of the subject under study and interdisciplinary, real-world research as well as research-based curriculum models such as Paul’s Reasoning Model, etc.   

    • Teachers make use of compacting material, faster pacing, and extension activities to allow time for critical and creative thinking. Student choice and independent project work are often part of the classroom experience. Projects tend to have higher complexity, depth, or breadth than in the general curriculum and may be assessed differently.

11. Once a student qualifies for the high ability program, does he or she have to re-qualify every year? 

Provided that he or she continues to be successful in the high ability curriculum, there is no need to re-qualify from year to year.  

12. What happens if my high achieving child does not qualify as a High Ability student?

  • In considering data about children’s achievement, we recognize that in Zionsville Schools, we have many students who score strongly (perhaps even occasionally in the 95th percentile range and above) in math and or reading on NWEA, but who are not identified as high ability, or gifted. These students are certainly high achievers, but may not meet Zionsville’s criteria for gifted identification when multiple data points are considered.  

  • Our philosophy in ZCS is to use formative assessment thoughtfully and often to match appropriately-challenging curriculum and experiences to every child, consistent with his or her abilities and leading to maximum growth. If that should ultimately lead to a high ability designation for a child, that is only one of many avenues to ensuring continuous progress and challenge so that we do not put ceilings on any child’s learning. We have many ways to meet student needs for acceleration--including subject-skipping, grade-skipping, using technology as a resource for presenting advanced content, grouping for instruction within classrooms, regrouping for instruction across classrooms or grade levels, providing additional enrichment projects and resources, using leveled and guided reading groups, using curriculum compacting and contracts for various units, creating options for independent learning, using student-driven inquiry on projects of choice/interest, involving other school professionals, and adjusting pace.expectations/materials, etc. It is not uncommon for parents to envision that the only way to meet a child’s needs is through testing and high ability placement. In fact, we meet the needs of highly-able students in the Zionsville Community Schools on a daily basis in many different ways unique to each child. 
  • Classroom Placement: High achieving students are placed in clusters with other high achieving students in classrooms with teachers who are trained in differentiation. The grade level curriculum is often differentiated to provide deeper and broader experiences for these more advanced learners. In elementary schools, high achieving students are clustered in the classrooms that do not already have a cluster of high ability students which has been shown to increase their opportunities for leadership skills and curriculum differentiation at their level.
  • All students who are not identified as High Ability are screened in the spring of each year and reconsidered for high ability identification.

13. Can my child be exited from the high ability program? If so, what is the procedure?

  • Parents can always request an exit from the program. Please contact your child’s counselor for assistance.

  • In some cases, the HA placement may not be successful for a child. Our procedures in these situations are to involve parents, teacher, counselor, and—if necessary—the HA Coordinator to consider school-based interventions which may improve the child’s chances for success, to monitor responses to these interventions, and—if necessary—to change the student’s placement. Even in situations when a child has been exited from the program, he/she is still eligible for placement in future years. Please see this link on the website for more information: Exit Procedure for High Ability Program

14. My child did not attend kindergarten in Zionsville. Can he/she be tested to qualify for high ability programming as a first grader?

Students coming to first grade in ZCS from private kindergarten programs are not tested and identified as they enter first grade here.  That is because our identification process for ZCS kindergarten students is multifaceted, takes several months, and includes multiple tests as well as a six-week teacher observation and data collection process done by teachers trained in assessing these little ones.  It simply can’t be replicated for incoming students who weren’t there for it.  Thus, for incoming first graders coming from other school districts/private kindergarten programs/area preschools/home, we simply assess their needs in the first few weeks of school and adapt curriculum and instruction to meet them during the school year.  These children are included in our annual HA identification process during the spring of their first grade year for official identification as second graders. Please note that this does not mean their needs for acceleration will not be met during their first grade year if they arise.

15.  How does my child get placed in HA Science or HA Social Studies in middle school?

The state of Indiana requires us to identify and serve students as high ability in math and language arts only.  Thus, we do not have formal identification for students in other subject areas such as social studies and science.  With that said, the middle school principals have often scheduled such that students who are identified as HA language arts are grouped together for instruction in HA social studies since it helps with pacing and enrichment.  Further, with the Humanities course at fifth and sixth grade being designed as a combination of language arts/social studies, this is a given for the HA LA students already; they’ll be in HA language arts and thus sectioned together for social studies.  

With a math placement of HA, a student will typically end up in the HA science section unless some other “force fit” in the schedule doesn’t make it possible.  If that occurs, a parent/student may have to make some choices about what is more important as we are not obligated to provide science or social studies HA sections to students.  
Your child’s middle school counselor will be best positioned to help you with additional ongoing questions or concerns on this.
 16. More questions?
  • Please read all of the information elsewhere on this website. Chances are, your answer can be found here.
  • Please direct your building-specific questions to your child’s teacher, school counselor, or principal.
  • Please direct other questions to the following individuals:  
    • Christine Squier is the Director of Academic Services who serves as the Coordinator of services for student in grades K-4-- [email protected] Chris can answer specific questions about programs for students in grades K-4 as well as most general questions about district HA programs.

    • Kris Devereaux is the Assistant Superintendent-Academics  and High Ability Coordinator for programs for students in grades 5-12. Kris can answer specific questions about programs for students in grades 5-8 as well as most general questions about district HA programs [email protected]

    • Questions about high school programming are best answered by our high school counseling staff or school administrators.