Advanced Academic Programs (AAP) - Level IV Screening Process

Details about pathways to screening for full-time (level IV) AAP: universal screener, staff, and family referrals.

The information below offers details about how students are screened for full-time (Level IV) Advanced Academic Programs' services. There are two screening pathways:

  • Grade 2 Universal Screener Referrals - Students in grade 2 may be identified for screening based on their performance on a universal screening assessment (e.g., CogAT, NNAT); or
  • Staff and Family Referrals - Students may be identified for screening based on a direct referral (a request) from their teachers, parent/guardian, or other person who knows and works with the student. This option is accessed by many FCPS parents who seek this level of service for their students. Approximately 70% of the students screened for full-time placement come through this pathway.

Universal Screener Referral

The Grade 2 universal screener referral is one of two pathways for a student to be screened for full-time (level IV) AAP services. It uses universal testing data from the NNAT and CogAT to capture a top percentage of scores in grade 2. Please note that test scores are not weighted in the holistic process and do not give a complete picture of a student profile. 

The universal screener referral is intended to capture a group of students at each school who may require advanced differentiation based on one of many measures that are considered. This referral pathway is also one way to ensure that a student whose family may not yet be familiar with FCPS AAP and the referral process is not missed for consideration.

In the 2021-22 SY, the NNAT and CogAt test scores were combined to create a ranking of students at each local school second grade class group. From that ranked list, the top 10% of scores were selected for the local second grade pool, now known as the universal screener referral.

The Grade 2 universal screener referral is not a determination of eligibility.  Multiple pieces of data must be considered in eligibility decision processes (Virginia Department of Education Regulations Governing Educational Services for Gifted Students).

Test Scores are Part of Holistic Consideration

Test scores are not weighted more heavily in the portfolio review process. No part of the screening portfolio is weighted when considering whether a student may need a different placement in order to have their advanced learning needs met. All elements -- referral forms, progress reports, work samples, Gifted Behaviors Rating Scale, parent questionnaire, and test scores -- are considered holistically in the process. More information about elements included in screening portfolios can be found on the FCPS main AAP web page under “Presentations: Learn about Advanced Academic Programs and Services.”

Local Building Norms

The universal screening referral is an example of using local building norms as one element to identify students who may need AAP services. Using local building norms, students are compared to students at their local building to find the top students within the school. This approach aligns with the FCPS focus on identifying differentiation needs rather than labeling students as gifted.

Several benefits are realized when local building norms help identify students for differentiated instruction through the AAP continuum of services:

  • Allows consideration of local school context to find top students who may not have an academic peer group in their current setting, and
  • Captures a more accurate representation of talent and instructional needs across all schools.

Learn more about local building norms.

Using local building norms may mean that some students will have a universal screener referral from their school with comparatively lower scores than students from another school that has higher test scores overall.  That is how local norming is calculated. However, there is also a national norm component for the universal screener referral.  With national norms, students are compared to test scores nationally.

It is important to remember that being in the universal screener referral pathway is not an advantage in the screening process. Whether from a universal screener referral or from a referral, the same process follows  -- a portfolio for holistic review and consideration for eligibility is created at the local school and is submitted to a central screening committee for consideration. The parent/staff referral pathway is easily accessible and creates a fair opportunity for screening. 

Pilot Program for Local Building Norms

The 2021-22 SY is the second year that the district is using local building norms in addition to national norms in determining the second grade universal screener referral

In the 2020-21 SY, the use of local norms was piloted in 106 elementary schools. As expected, results showed the practice had some positive effect, particularly in Title I schools, with regards to ensuring students from historically underrepresented groups were considered for full-time AAP (level IV) services. Since the positive results of the successful pilot year, FCPS began using a local building norm component in all FCPS elementary schools when determining the universal screener referral group.

Use of local norms alone will not close gaps, but combined with other strategies, it can improve equity.

The pilot program also showed no negative effects to using local building norms since the referral pathway continues to be a well-utilized pathway for consideration.

A team of four researchers affirmed and advocated for use of local building norms in the screening and identification process in an external program review that took place during the 2019-20 SY.  Since referrals are the primary pathway for screening consideration, researchers said the use of local norms in the universal screening referral process would be a “low risk/high reward strategy” that would likely lead to more equity in FCPS AAP identification. More detailed information, including a memo from researchers advocating for the use of local building norms, is available on FCPS Board Docs.

FCPS' Philosophy of AAP

For more than a decade, FCPS’ philosophy of AAP is not to label students as gifted, but to instead focus on instructional needs of individual students. Needs can be met through multiple opportunities on the FCPS continuum of services. The local norms approach aligns practice with philosophy.

Release of Test Scores

Score reports are sent to all schools at the same time and are distributed from local schools to families. Mailing times may differ based on external factors.


In addition to the Grade 2 universal screener referral, students can be screened for full-time (Level IV) AAP services when a referral form is submitted from parents and guardians. (See FCPS main AAP web page under Pathways to Full-Time Level IV Services.) 

Referrals are the primary and most frequently accessed pathway for students to be considered for Level IV services. Parents who want their student screened for AAP should refer their student rather than focus on the Grade 2 universal screener referral, as the Grade 2 universal screener referral is not advantageous or complete.

Staff and Family Referrals vs. Grade 2 Universal Screener Referral

Having a Grade 2 universal screener referral does not mean the student has an advantage or is screened differently. If a student is not in the  universal screener referral pathway, parents or teachers who think the student should be screened should submit a referral form for the student to be considered.

Whether a student portfolio for screening is initiated via universal screener, staff, or family referral, the same process follows:  The local school creates a file with a collection of materials to be considered holistically.  It is forwarded to the central selection committee.  It is reviewed with all the files from the school by a similar committee of six readers.  Parents are notified of the determination in April.

Other AAP Opportunities

The window for referring a student for Level IV AAP services is Aug 23-Dec 15. If a parent chooses not to refer a student or misses the window, many other AAP opportunities are available. AAP curriculum is accessible in every K-6 classroom without referral or eligibility. Parents can also submit a referral for school-based services (Level II-III) at any point in the school year. 

In fact, AAP curriculum and strategies are available to all classes beginning in kindergarten. There are multiple pathways for students to access AAP on the K-12 continuum of services. Full-time placement (level IV) is one of many services on the AAP continuum and is only available in grades 3-8. Beginning in middle school, AAP honors coursework is open-enrollment and does not include an identification process. Advanced coursework at the high school level are all open-enrollment and include opportunities for honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment, and other opportunities for students to develop their talent and interest areas.

In grades 7-12, students can self-select the specific course areas where they want or need a greater degree of challenge in interest or strength areas. 

Glossary of Terms

Here are definitions for words people use when talking about the identification process (e.g. universal screener, screening, Level IV, and eligibility)

Central selection committee

The central selection committee involves staff from all elementary schools, some middle schools, and some central office staff. The overall committee meets in groups of 6 to review files from the same school at the same time. Each reader makes their own vote of eligibility based on their holistic review of the portfolio. Consensus of at least 4 committee members makes the determination of eligible or ineligible for Level IV AAP.

Continuum of services

FCPS does not label students as gifted. Need for advanced academics happens on a continuum with multiple opportunities and entry points (level I, II, III, IV services; honors courses; AP/IB courses, etc.). More information about the continuum of services is available in multiple places on the main FCPS AAP web page, including under “Presentations: Learn about Advanced Academic Programs and Services”, “Elementary School AAP Services”, and “Middle School AAP Services.”


Eligibility means that a committee has determined that a student needs a particular level of service.  Eligibility for Level II and Level III AAP services is determined by a committee at the local school.  Eligibility for Level IV AAP services is determined by a committee at the central level through the central selection committee members.

Holistic review

A holistic review means that no items in a file are weighted.  All data (progress report, work samples, school-based observations, parent input, ability test scores, and achievement test scores) is considered together to determine a match between student needs and services on the continuum.

Universal Screener Referral

The universal screener referral is a process unique to grade 2. It uses limited data (a formula combining test scores) to capture approximately 10% of the second grade group that will be screened automatically (with or without a staff or family referral unless a parent requests their student not be screened). 

Staff or Family Referral

A referral is when a parent, teacher, or other individual submits a paragraph on a form to say why they would like the student screened for AAP services. The form prompts the start of the screening process. In the screening process, a committee will review multiple data points and determine a match to a level of AAP services on the continuum. The referral form for subject specific advanced differentiation and part-time AAP services (Level II-III) and the referral form for full-time placement (Level IV) services are available on the FCPS AAP website under “Forms.”


Screening is a process of reviewing a collection of information for an individual student. The collection may be referred to as a “portfolio” or “file.” The collection includes:  progress reports, work samples, school-based observations, parent input, ability test scores, and achievement test scores (if available). For full-time placement (level IV), screening happens at the central level and is also called “central selection committee.”