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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

August 2019


What research is available on the effectiveness of different instructional strategies on academic and nonacademic outcomes for gifted students in grades K–12?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the effects of different instructional strategies on academic and nonacademic outcomes for gifted students in grades K–12. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to academic achievement, high school course selection, social-emotional development, critical thinking and/or creativity. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Adelson, J. L., McCoach, D. B., & Gavin, M. K. (2012). Examining the effects of gifted programming in mathematics and reading using the ECLS-K. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56(1), 25–39. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examined the average effects of schools’ third through fifth grade gifted programming policy in mathematics and reading on overall school achievement, on gifted students’ achievement and academic attitudes and on nongifted students’ achievement and academic attitudes. Data and results represent a broad, national look at school personnel-reported programming without distinction as to type, length, or degree of programming. No detrimental effects were found at the overall school level or for nongifted students. However, the results also indicated that, on average, the diverse programs reported in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1988-1989 (ECLS-K) database had no effect on gifted students’ achievement or academic attitudes. Considered in light of prior research indicating benefits of specific programs and existing inconsistent policies and programs, this suggests the need for future research to determine effective program characteristics and suggests that policy makers, educators, and parents actively must seek research-based practices to use with gifted children.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Azano, A. P., Callahan, C. M., Brodersen, A. V., & Caughey, M. (2017). Responding to the challenges of gifted education in rural communities. Global Education Review, 4(1). 62–77. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There are both achievement and opportunity gaps for low-income students when compared to their economically advantaged peers; and, for rural students, these gaps may be even more pronounced. In this manuscript we draw from our ongoing work in a five-year federally-funded, Jacob K. Javits grant focusing on promoting gifted education in rural schools. To address issues of under-identification of gifted students in these settings, and to investigate ways to maximize achievement, we established an alternative process for identifying gifted students in rural schools; and we created units integrating place-based pedagogy within an evidence-based curriculum model as an intervention. Finally, we discuss preliminary findings from the pilot year and first half of the second year of the study documenting success in augmenting the pool of identified students and engaging teachers in implementing the curriculum. Perhaps more importantly, we document lessons learned and more global takeaways for the field. Specifically, we discuss the influence of deficit thinking with regard to rural schooling (and subsequent recognition of gifts and talents), the risk of generalizing rural to all rural places, and the nuances of rural poverty not captured in commonly used metrics, such as Free and Reduced Lunch.”

Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., Oh, S., Azano, A. P., & Hailey, E. P. (2015). What works in gifted education: Documenting the effects of an integrated curricular/instructional model for gifted students. American Educational Research Journal, 52(1), 137–167. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The heart of effective programming for gifted students lies in the integration of advanced curricula with effective instructional strategies to develop leaning activities that will enhance student learning outcomes. However, empirical evidence of the effectiveness of units based on such curricular and instructional interventions from large-scale experimental studies in multiple settings are limited. To document the effectiveness of units that integrated the principles from curricular and instructional models in the field of gifted education, two language arts units for gifted third graders were developed and tested in a randomized cluster design. Multilevel analyses of data collected from more than 200 classrooms document statistically significant differences favoring the treatment group over the comparison group on standards-referenced assessments.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., & Oh, S. (2017). Describing the status of programs for the gifted: A call for action. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 40(1), 20–49. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Using three leveled surveys of school district personnel (elementary, middle, and high school), we collected data on the current status of practices and procedures in gifted education across the nation. Results from 1,566 respondents in separate school districts to questions relating to administration (staffing), identification of gifted students, curriculum and instruction, program delivery models, financing, program evaluation, teacher qualification requirements, and professional development document a national picture of current practice. In addition, we structured data collection procedures to assess the degree to which the NAGC Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards are used to guide programming. The resulting picture of current practices was often a mirror of practices from 20 or more years ago, suggesting a need for a national dialogue focused on reshaping gifted education for the 21st century.”

Card, D., & Giuliano, L. (2014). Does gifted education work? For which students? (NBER Working Paper 20453). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Education policy makers have struggled for decades with the question of how to best serve high ability K12 students. As in the debate over selective college admissions, a key issue is targeting. Should gifted and talented programs be allocated on the basis of cognitive ability, or a broader combination of ability and achievement? Should there be a single admission threshold, or a lower bar for disadvantaged students? We use data from a large urban school district to study the impacts of assignment to separate gifted classrooms on three distinct groups of fourth grade students: non-disadvantaged students with IQ scores ≥130; subsidized lunch participants and English language learners with IQ scores ≥116; and students who miss the IQ thresholds but scored highest among their school/grade cohort in state-wide achievement tests in the previous year. Regression discontinuity estimates based on the IQ thresholds for the first two groups show no effects on reading or math achievement at the end of fourth grade. In contrast, estimates based on test score ranks for the third group show significant gains in reading and math, concentrated among lower-income and black and Hispanic students. The math gains persist to fifth grade and are also reflected in fifth grade science scores. Our findings suggest that a separate classroom environment is more effective for students selected on past achievement—particularly disadvantaged students who are often excluded from gifted and talented programs.”

Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., Marron, M. A., Castellano, J. A., Clinkenbeard, P. R., Rogers, K., … & Smith, D. (2010). Guidelines for developing an academic acceleration policy. Journal of Advanced Academics, 21(2), 180–203. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As an educational intervention, acceleration is decidedly effective for high-ability students. The research support for acceleration that has accumulated over many decades is robust and consistent and allows us to confidently state that carefully planned acceleration decisions are successful. Both grade-based and content-based acceleration are effective interventions in academic and social-emotional domains for high-ability students. Grade-accelerated students generally outperform their chronologically older classmates academically, and both groups show approximately equal levels of social and emotional adjustment. To be clear, there is no evidence that acceleration has a negative effect on a student’s social-emotional development.”

Gavin, M. K., Casa, T. M., Adelson, J. L., Carroll, S. R., & Sheffield, L. J. (2009). The impact of advanced curriculum on the achievement of mathematically promising elementary students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 53(3), 188–202. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The primary aim of Project M3: Mentoring Mathematical Minds was to develop and field test advanced units for mathematically promising elementary students based on exemplary practices in gifted and mathematics education. This article describes the development of the units and reports on mathematics achievement results for students in Grades 3 to 5 from 11 urban and suburban schools after exposure to the curriculum. Data analyses indicate statistically significant differences favoring each of the experimental groups over the comparison group on the ITBS (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) Concepts and Estimation Test and on Open-Response Assessments at all three grade levels. Furthermore, the effect sizes range from 0.29 to 0.59 on the ITBS Concepts and Estimation Scale and 0.69 to 0.97 on the Open-Response Assessments. These results indicate that these units, designed to address the needs of mathematically promising students, positively affected their achievement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kettler, T. (2014). Critical thinking skills among elementary school students: Comparing identified gifted and general education student performance. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(2), 127–136. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Education reform efforts, including the current adoption of Common Core State Standards, have increased attention to teaching critical thinking skills to all students. This study investigated the critical thinking skills of fourth-grade students from a school district in Texas, including 45 identified gifted students and 163 general education students. Identified gifted students outperformed general education students on both the Cornell Critical Thinking Test and the Test of Critical Thinking (‘d’ = 1.52 and ‘d’ = 1.36, respectively). There was no evidence of main effects or interaction effects for gender in measures of critical thinking within these samples. Critical thinking scores of students in the three schools did not differ significantly, nor were differences in scores associated with length of exposure to the gifted education program.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kim, M. (2016). A meta-analysis of the effects of enrichment programs on gifted students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 60(2), 102–116. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although descriptions of enrichment programs are valuable for practitioners, practices, and services for gifted students, they must be backed by evidence, derived through a synthesis of research. This study examined research on enrichment programs serving gifted students and synthesized the current studies between 1985 and 2014 on the effects of enrichment programs. A total of 26 studies were included in this meta-analysis, and the findings show that enrichment programs had a positive impact on both gifted students’ academic achievement (g = 0.96, 95% CI [0.64, 1.30], under a random-effects model) and socioemotional development (g = 0.55, 95% CI [0.32, 0.79], under a random-effects model). Regarding moderators of the effects, types of programs, and grade levels influenced both effect sizes of academic achievement and socioemotional development. The largest effect size was observed for summer residential programs in terms of academic achievement and for a combination of summer and academic year program in terms of socioemotional development.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Long, D., McCoach, B., Hamilton, R., Siegle, D., Gubbins, E. J., & Callahan, C. M. (2019, April). The effects of ability grouping of gifted students on gifted and non-gifted achievement growth. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Toronto, Canada. Retrieved from

From the presentation: “Research Questions
1. What is the impact of within-class and between-class grouping of gifted students on the academic growth of gifted and non-gifted students?
2. Do the effects of ability grouping differ by socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, and English learner status?
3. Are these findings influenced by the opportunity to learn (e.g. academic curriculum) in gifted classes?
Overview of Data and Methods
Data: Administrative data 3rd grade students from the 2011 cohort in 3 states, tracked from 3rd-5th grade and a survey of school gifted coordinators in these 3 states.
Methods: 4-level growth curve models of Math and Reading achievement growth.”

Mun, R. U., Langley, S. D., Ware, S., Gubbins, E. J., Siegle, D., Callahan, C. M., McCoach, D. B., & Hamilton,, R. (2016). Effective practices for identifying and serving English learners in gifted education: A systematic review of the literature. Storrs, CT: National Center for Research on Gifted Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “While the number of English Learners (ELs) continues to grow rapidly in the United States, corresponding proportions of ELs are not found in gifted and talented education programs across the nation. The underrepresentation of ELs in gifted programs is both a societal and a research problem. This report presents the results of a systematic review of the literature related to the most effective practices used to identify and serve ELs for gifted education services. We examined and categorized a final selection of 45 theoretical and empirical articles under four major themes: nomination, screening/assessment, services, and identification models. Implications and areas of future research are discussed.”

Periathiruvadi, S., & Rinn, A. N. (2012). Technology in gifted education: A review of best practices and empirical research. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 45(2), 153–169. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The article aims to explore the progress of technology use in gifted education and highlight the best practices and empirical research in this area. The literature on the use of technology with gifted students and their teachers has been extensive, with articles on best practices, but the empirical research in this area is still emerging. With the increasing interest and awareness about integrating technology, this review will be useful for helping teachers, practitioners, and researchers understand how technology has been used in different areas of gifted programming, including learning and development, assessment, curriculum, learning environments, and professional development. The authors also discuss the current research on technology use in general education and offer suggestions for future research in this area with gifted children and their teachers.”

Plucker, J. A., & Callahan, C. M. (2014). Research on giftedness and gifted education: Status of the field and considerations for the future. Exceptional Children, 80(4), 390–406. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Gifted education has a rich history and a solid if uneven research base. As policy makers and educators increasingly turn their attention to advanced students and educational excellence, the time is ripe for a dispassionate analysis of the field’s conceptual and empirical strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of this special feature article is to highlight advances in theories and research related to giftedness and gifted education, note the promising areas for additional research, and propose next steps for improving the quality and utility of empirical work in this important area.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Rudasill, K. M., & Callahan, C. M. (2010). Academic self-perceptions of ability and course planning among academically advanced students. Journal of Advanced Academics, 21(2), 300–329. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study is to examine the contribution of gender to the academic self-perceptions of ability and related coursework plans for high school and college across academically advanced students. Participants were academically advanced students (N = 447) from grades 5 to 12. Findings revealed that (a) girls’ self-perceptions of ability scores were higher than boys’ in humanities, and boys planned to take more math courses than girls; (b) academically advanced students’ self-perceptions of ability correlated with their future coursework plans. Results point to the importance of understanding how gender stereotypes contribute to academically advanced students’ academic self-perceptions of ability and coursework plans.”

Siegle, D., Puryear, J. S., Estepar-Garcia, W., Callahan, C. M., Gubbins, E. J., McCoach, D. B.,…Amspaugh, C. M. (2017, April). Gifted education structures in elementary schools and their connections to program focus. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Antonio, TX. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Gifted education programs are diverse with respect to their structure and foci. This diversity is reflective of the field itself. With this large, multi-state study, we surveyed practices employed in elementary schools (N= 2,293). Differences were observed in the implementation mechanics of reading/English language arts and mathematics curriculum. Interrelationships between program structures emerged (e.g., existence of separate gifted math curriculum and pull-out instruction, (Ø= .16). Schools reported a focus on 21st century skills and enrichment techniques while neglecting acceleration strategies and cultural responsiveness. Lastly, we observed a number of statistically significant relationships between program structures and the foci used in gifted programs. These relationships may reflect underlying beliefs in the field.”

Steenbergen-Hu, S., & Moon, S. M. (2011). The effects of acceleration on high-ability learners: A meta-analysis. Gifted Child Quarterly, 55(1), 39–53. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Current empirical research about the effects of acceleration on high-ability learners’ academic achievement and social-emotional development were synthesized using meta-analytic techniques. A total of 38 primary studies conducted between 1984 and 2008 were included. The results were broken down by developmental level (P-12 and postsecondary) and comparison group (whether the accelerants were compared with same-age, older, or mixed-age peers). The findings are consistent with the conclusions from previous meta-analytic studies, suggesting that acceleration had a positive impact on high-ability learners’ academic achievement (g = 0.180, 95% CI = -0.072, 0.431, under a random-effects model). In addition, the social-emotional development effects appeared to be slightly positive (g > 0.076, 95% CI > -0.025, 0.176, under a random-effects model), although not as strong as for academic achievement. No strong evidence regarding the moderators of the effects was found.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Vogl, K., & Preckel, F. (2014). Full-time ability grouping of gifted students: Impacts on social self-concept and school-related attitudes. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(1), 51–68. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Positive socioemotional outcomes and developments represent important educational goals. Full-time ability grouping of gifted students has been criticized for potentially detrimental socioemotional effects. Therefore, in the present longitudinal study, we investigated whether or not social self-concepts and school-related attitudes and beliefs are affected by full-time ability grouping of the gifted. Students in regular classes and students in special classes for the gifted were paralleled for cognitive ability, sex, socioeconomic status, and school. By doing so, we studied 99 ‘statistical twins’ (‘N’ = 198) from the beginning of fifth grade to the middle of sixth grade. Data were analyzed through repeated-measures multivariate analysis of covariance (within-subject factor: time; between-subject factors: class type—gifted vs. regular—and cognitive ability as covariate). Cognitive ability had hardly any effect on the variables under study. Attending a gifted class had initially positive effects on students’ social self-concept of acceptance but no effects on social self-concept of assertiveness. Moreover, children in gifted classes exhibited more interest in school and reported better student-teacher relationships than their counterparts in regular classes.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Wallace, P. (2009). Distance learning for gifted students: Outcomes for elementary, middle, and high school aged students. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 32(3), 295–320. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although distance learning often is cited as a potentially useful strategy to provide appropriately challenging academic coursework to gifted students, little research has been conducted on its use or effectiveness with this population, particularly with younger students in elementary school. In this study, distance learning outcomes for gifted students from age 5 to 17 were examined, drawing on student and parent evaluations and final grades, and comparing results by age group. Overall, the students and their parents found the course an effective learning experience. Elementary school age students reported different reasons for enrolling, rated their instructors significantly more favorably, and found their course to be slightly less demanding compared to older students. However, they rated software usability somewhat lower. The findings point to the potential for distance learning for gifted students, even those in elementary school, and suggest issues that should be considered to ensure success.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) –

From the website: “NAGC’s mission is to support those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building, and research. We aim to help parents and families, K-12 education professionals including support service personnel, and members of the research and higher education community who work to help gifted and talented children as they strive to achieve their personal best and contribute to their communities.”

National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRCGT) –

From the website: “The National Research Center on Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) successfully competed for a series of federally funded grants (1990-2013) under the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education Act. Our final studies focused on What Works in Gifted Education with the mathematics study at the University of Connecticut and the reading/language arts study at the University of Virginia. The respective research teams developed model-based curricula in mathematics for grade 3 students in general education classrooms and reading/language arts curricula for grade 3 students in gifted and talented programs reflecting the following curricular/instructional models: (a) Differentiation of Instruction Model (Carol Ann Tomlinson); (b) Depth and Complexity Model (Sandra N. Kaplan), and (c) Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Joseph S. Renzulli and Sally M. Reis).”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Gifted

  • Gifted “instructional effectiveness”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-;experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.