Admission Tests Preparation

Houston Vanguard Programs and the CogAT

In Houston, children identified as gifted take part in the Vanguard programs. Learn about the gifted identification process and the different gifted and talented schools in Houston.
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Identification Process

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has gifted programs available for students in grades K-12. These gifted programs, known as Vanguard programs, are specially designed to meet the needs of gifted children in Houston. Gifted students in HISD Vanguard programs are provided with differentiated curricula, covering information in more depth and at a faster pace.

In order to be eligible for Vanguard programs, students must first be identified as gifted. The identification process involves many different components, including grades, teacher recommendations, and gifted testing.

The HISD utilizes both the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Iowa Assessments to help identify gifted children. As of the 2014-15 school year, the HISD began using the CogAT to assess all kindergarten and fifth grade students. In previous years, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) was used. Students in kindergarten and fifth grade in the HISD take the CogAT in mid-November. If your child is applying to a Vanguard program and s/he is not entering the first or sixth grade, s/he will be required to take the appropriate CogAT for his/her level, in order to gain admission to the program.

The Iowa Assessments is required for all HISD students in grades K-8. The Logramos-3 may be used for Spanish speakers instead of the Iowa Assessments. Students applying to HISD Vanguard programs are required to take the Iowa Assessments, regardless of their grade. Students who have already taken the Stanford-10 at the appropriate level may not be required to take the Iowa Assessments.

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Programs and Schools

Every school in the HISD offers a Vanguard program for its gifted students (known as Vanguard Neighborhoods). All Vanguard programs also use the same criteria for identifying gifted students. Within HISD’s Vanguard program, there are two types of schools:
  • Vanguard Magnets, which are district-wide programs
  • Vanguard Neighborhoods, which are local, zoned schools

Every HISD neighborhood school has its own Vanguard Neighborhood program available. However, there are only 15 Vanguard Magnet schools in the HISD (see table below). Vanguard Magnets are considered to be more prestigious, and thus, have more stringent admissions criteria. See the table below for a list of all Vanguard Magnet schools.

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Vanguard Magnet Schools

School Grades
Askew ElementaryK-5
Black Middle6-8
Burbank Middle6-8
Carnegie Vanguard High9-12
Carrillo ElementaryK-5
De Zavala ElementaryK-5
Hamilton Middle6-8
Herod ElementaryK-5
Lanier Middle6-8
Oak Forest ElementaryK-5
River Oaks ElementaryK-5
Roosevelt ElementaryK-5
T.H. Rogers K-8K-8
Travis ElementaryK-5
Windsor Village ElementaryK-5

At all HISD Vanguard schools, gifted students are taught by teachers specially trained in gifted education. Depending on the number of gifted students at a school, classes may be taught in either homogeneous or heterogeneous groups. In homogeneous settings, students are taught by specially trained gifted instructors in their normal classrooms. In heterogeneous settings, gifted students are mixed in with the rest of their classmates, and are pulled out for separate, differentiated study with the gifted instructor.

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Application Process

The following are requirements of the HISD Vanguard Magnet school or Vanguard Neighborhood program application processes:

Vanguard Magnet School Vanguard Neighborhood Program
Complete Vanguard Magnet ApplicationComplete Vanguard Neighborhood Application
Submit application to top choice school*Submit application to neighborhood school*
Coordinator will contact you if further testing is requiredCoordinator will contact you if further testing is required
Applicants’ folders are presented to centralized Vanguard Admissions CommitteeApplicants’ folders are presented to campus Vanguard Admissions Committee
If there are more qualified applicants than available spaces, students are placed in a lotteryThe Vanguard Neighborhood program provides services to all qualified students

*Parents must attach all required information when submitting application. Applications that are missing any of the following may delay the G&T identification and admission process:

  • Latest report card (students entering grades 3-12 need to submit previous year’s report card with application; students entering grades 1 & 2 need to submit report card from the end of the previous semester, sent home in January 2015 - submitted separately by the end of January).
  • Iowa Assessments scores, test taken no earlier than the previous February.
  • CogAT scores, test taken no earlier than the previous February
  • One (only one) teacher recommendation form (teacher recommendations for current HISD kindergarten and 5th grade students will be completed online by their respective classroom teachers).
  • Completed application must be signed by applicant’s parent

Parent is responsible for submitting copies of all required data at the time of application. Incomplete applications may cause a delay in the identification and admission process.

Students who qualify and are accepted to a Vanguard Magnet school and opt not to attend the Vanguard school may apply to the Vanguard Neighborhood program in his/her neighborhood school.

The application process itself consists of filling out a “matrix.” This matrix consists of many different factors, such as grades, teacher recommendations, and gifted test scores (both the CogAT and Iowa Assessments), and it is the same for Vanguard Magnet schools as well as Vanguard Neighborhood programs. The matrix is filled out with the student’s information, with each section counting for a certain number of points. For example, the CogAT score can count for up to 30 points (see CogAT table below) and the Iowa Assessments score can count for up to a total of 40 points (20 point reading and 20 points math) (see Iowa Assessments table below), depending on the child’s scores. In total, a student would need at least 56 points to be considered for the gifted program. Since a high CogAT score can count for over half of child's total matrix score, it is extremely important to do well on the test in order to be admitted to a gifted program. 

Parents must submit the application to their local neighborhood (zoned) school by a set date, which is typically close to the middle of December. Students entering kindergarten applying to Vanguard programs may need to submit applications by an earlier date and has the same admissions requirements as the Vanguard Magnet schools and Vanguard Neighborhood program.

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CogAT Matrix Scoring System

CogAT Score Points

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Iowa Matrix Scoring System

Total Reading NPR* Points
95-99 percentile20
90-94 percentile16
85-89 percentile13
80-84 percentile10
70-79 percentile7

Total Math NPR* Points
95-99 percentile20
90-94 percentile16
85-89 percentile13
80-84 percentile10
70-79 percentile7
*National Percentile Rank

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Preparing for the CogAT 

The CogAT is a very difficult test, especially for kindergartners who are still learning the basic fundamentals of test-taking. Since a high CogAT score can be counted for over half of the required points needed to be eligible for Vanguard programs, it is essential that your child prepare for the CogAT. TestPrep-Online offers study packs for the CogAT, which include easy to use, child-friendly study materials for your child. Each study pack includes practice tests, helpful study guides, and hundreds of additional practice questions.

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Free CogAT Sample Questions

Click here for CogAT free sample practice questions.

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