I get this question a lot and attend trainings where sometimes I don't always agree with the answer the presenter gives. It amazes me how many different ways various states and districts determine this status. Some places accept portfolios, some it's straight testing. We test our 4-year olds with an oral administration of 2 different tests and if they don't qualify then they can apply the following year using standardized test scores. Other places, they don't allow an identification until 2nd Grade. Some places have IEP's for GT students to ensure they have modifications. You would think with all this "standardization" going on, there would be a specific method.
One of the biggest myths I hear on a daily basis is that Gifted and Talented labeled children are academically superior. We take Stanford testing right after Thanksgiving in Kindergarten (roll eyes-I know!). Even though the kids are in roughly the 3rd month of Kindergarten and the reasonable expectation of scores would be K.3 for grade equivalency; since many of mine are already labeled GT, they are expected to get one whole grade level above-1.4. So, I'm being asked to teach a year and half's curriculum in 3 months, simply because these kids passed the test to qualify for GT. My typical class doesn't begin the year reading in Kindergarten(although I do usually have a few kids who are advanced in that area) and they certainly, in many cases, haven't been asked to think before. It takes a long time to get past the mundane answers and I still struggle with that. (We did an activity last week that asked them where the light comes from on a firefly-several kids answered with: their behind).
Anyway, from my experience:
1) Kids who are truly gifted just "get" it. I was once reading a story and the Georgie's friend wanted another boy to join their lemonade selling. Georgie didn't want him to. When I asked why many kids gave answers, but one student got it-he was jealous, he didn't want to share his friend. That's deep thinking for a 5-year old.
2) They are thoughtful. We were at dismissal one day and the custodian was changing the words on the marquis and one of my kids asked, "are those letters magnetic?". He's thinking about how those letters are sticking on there (and honestly, I had to ask, because I didn't know how it worked).
3) Many kids have a very quick grasp of vocabulary-they will use words that they have been taught, and use them correctly. One of my absolutely favorite teaching moments was reading Charlotte's Web and this little girl graduated to middle school last year, so it was awhile back. Let me preface this by saying, I always encourage the kids to ask what a word means. I also will often say, oh I love how the author used that word, did you hear that he said it the light "flooded the night". I was reading about that beloved spider and one of the kids raised her hand and said, "Miss Trayers, I love that word--marvel". I was touched, they are listening! Of course, I said thank you, that's a wonderful observation and then on a daily basis someone would raise their hand and say "I love that word--bread". But they got the point.
4) Although I've seen my share of underachievers, most have a yearning to learn. They can apply what they are learning in a real way-not just regurgitate it for an answer on a test, but really take what they've learned and create something new and different. When we read Legend of the Bluebonnet this year, I asked the kids to write about a toy they would give up and what would grow when they planted it.
5) Very sensitive. We have daily drama when someone doesn't know the answer on the test or I have to simply talk to someone about not doing that behavior again and the flood gates open.
I also once had a student I truly believe was GT, who decided to put a small pebble up her nose during recess. One year a student purposely got on the wrong bus because the other one seemed like more fun. I caught 2 boys wetting toilet paper and throwing it on the ceiling of the restroom one year, so it would stick there (our very tall custodian needed to use some critical thinking on that one to figure out how to get it down). One of our older GT students was overheard the other day asking when Saturday tutorials were. :) They don't always have common sense to go along with their natural abilities.
My point is there is no tried and true test. In my experience, I've never seen a checklist that I wholeheartedly agreed with. Just because a child is advanced, doesn't mean they are GT. Just because a child is below average academically doesn't mean they are not. There are many different ways a child can be gifted and we need to make sure we are challenging the ones who need that challenge, so they will work up to their potential.