Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NY Parents Up in Arms about Gifted Test

An article in today's New York Times says that the city's public schools will introduce one standardized testing regime to qualify students for gifted and talented programs in the city. This plan will abolish sibling preference for gifted programs. Mariela Calleja, an Upper West Side resident, has one son in the gifted program at P.S. 9 and had hoped that her younger daughter would join him next year.

"I don't know what I'm left with at this point; I'm crossing my fingers," she said. "What if my daughter scores well enough to get into a gifted and talented program, but not her first choice? Do I then send her to a G and T program at another school, or do I choose to deprive her of the enriched education and send her to the general education program in the same building?"

Granted, it would suck to have to send my kids off to three different schools every day. (Actually, my boys do go to three different schools this year. And it does suck.) What bothers me most about this article is not the program it's describing but the assumptions it makes about educating gifted kids.

For example, "Some parents said they feared that the changes could make the lack of socioeconomic diversity at some programs worse, as the top-scoring children, who most likely would have had the benefits of excellent preschool preparation, gravitate toward the two or three choice programs." (Boldface mine)

A gifted child does not need an excellent preschool to be gifted. An excellent preschool can teach numbers, colors, etc. but it can't make you gifted if you're not. The advantage Head Start students have in kindergarten disappears by third grade. Giftedness does not disappear. (Yes, you can hide it, but it does not disappear.)

The issue here is achievement vs. aptitude. Head Start students achieve a lot in their first years, because they are taught the same information through that program that the middle-class white children would be taught in an excellent preschool program or by interested parents. It evens the playing field. That's a good thing. But Head Start does nothing to increase aptitude, how able the learner is to try to understand and apply their knowledge to the world around them. A four-year-old is not going to question how life began on Earth--and insist on getting what they consider to be a reasonable answer--simply because he or she went to preschool. But a gifted child might.

The problem comes in when achievement rather than aptitude is the criteria for admission to the gifted programs. It's much easier to measure achievement than aptitude. When did she talk? How high can he count? What grade level does she read on? Very clear cut. Wolfie's super-challenge math program is based on "achievement and responsibility" according to his teacher, which is why if he gets less than a B+ in the class, he's bumped back down to regular sixth grade math. Which is asinine, but that's a topic for another entry. My point here is that if the tests in NYC are measuring achievement, then the parents' fears will likely come true--the GT programs will become an island of middle-class white kids from excellent preschools. Let's hope the real qualification is aptitude.

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