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How ALPS Identifies Advanced Learners


What is an Advanced Learner?

How can an advanced learner be recognized? Can a student be an advanced learner if he or she is not excelling in school?

These questions are not easy to answer. However, we can get a better idea if we look at the characteristics of three different types of children: High Achievers, Advanced Learners, and Creative Thinkers. These categories go a long way in helping us recognize advanced learners, including those who don't do well in school. The chart below provides some of the comparisons among these three groups.

high achiever vs advanced learner vs creative thinker
Why is it necessary to identify advanced learners?

The purpose of ALPS identification is for NVUSD to assist teachers with advanced learners who may not have all their learning needs met in the classroom.  Every student is required to learn their grade level standards.  Once they have learned them, it's important for them to have opportunities to keep moving forward.  Our goal is to provide support to teachers and  schools so that every student is challenged and makes significant progress during each school year.

“Children already come to us differentiated.  It just makes sense that we would differentiate our instruction in response to them.” – Carol Ann Tomlinson


Not in NVUSD!

cartoon about nonequity

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT)

The CogAT is a nationally normed test which means that it compares your child’s results with other children across the United States.  Universal screening using the CogAT occurs in the 3rd grade for all NVUSD Students. Students are tested on their verbal, quantitative (mathematical), and non-verbal reasoning. 

Why use the CogAT to identify Advanced Learners?

The CogAT measures students’ reasoning abilities in the three areas most linked to academic success in school: Verbal, Quantitative (Mathematical), and Nonverbal. While CogAT is well-suited to help educators identify Advanced Learners, it can also be used to expand the educational opportunities of all students.

The CogAT differs from other achievement tests such as the SAT and the CST in that the CogAT does not measure how much a student has learned, but focuses instead on a student's reasoning and problem-solving abilities using verbal, quantitative, and spatial (non-verbal) methods to find the answers.

When are Students CogAT-tested?

  • Any student entering NVUSD from another district after third grade may request testing through a referral by a school Student Success Team. 
  • K-2 students can be individually evaluated upon referral by a school Student Success Team.
  • Students can be referred for re-testing upon referral by a school Student Success Team. An ALPS Office representative is available to attend these meetings if necessary. 
q & a

Q: What is a percentile?

A: A percentile is best described as a comparison score. Unlike a percentage, where a student is given a percent number that is related only to his or her performance in a test or examination, a percentile is a number between 1 and 100 that relates the student’s performance to those of other students who have taken the test. In a set of numbers, the percentile for a given value indicates the percentage of numbers that are less than or equal to that value.

For example, if a student scores 85% in a test and is in the 90thpercentile, this means that 90% of students had scores that were less than or equal to 85%.


Q: My child does extremely well in school, but scored below the required score on the CogAT. Please explain how this can happen.

A: The CogAT is an abilities test that measures critical and abstract thinking not taught in the classroom.  Each year NVUSD blanket-tests all 3rd grade students.  Some of these students are high achievers that do very well on the California State Test which measure the student’s ability to learn their grade-level standards.  These students thrive in the classroom as their needs can often be met with resources already provided within the regular curriculum.  Advanced learners think divergently and rapidly and often finish school work or show proficiency at a rate so much faster than their peers that they need additional resources to keep them moving forward academically during the school day.  The CogAT helps us to identify those students. 

With that said, it is also our belief that if students show a need for additional resources and they are not “qualified” as an ALPS student, they should be provided those opportunities as well. The ALPS office identifies many free online resources that are available for everyone.  Schools or parents can also provide access to the ALPS Project Zone for students that may not be officially “identified” but show the need for opportunities to keep high achievers moving forward as well.

Equitable Identification and Identification Criteria

The ALPS office is responsible for having an identification process in place that is representative of ALL of our NVUSD students.  Our goal is to provide resources to school sites to meet the needs of all advanced learners during the school day. 

To accomplish this, we have developed identification criteria based upon second language acquisition research, input from the English Learner Services department and from teachers. 

Multi Measures data points are reviewed that include scores from Reading Inventory, Math Inventory, District Writing Assessment and California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) in addition to CogAT scores. 


Here are the links to the ALPS identification criteria: 

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