Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gifted Kids and Standardized Testing

I'm not big on labels. But sometimes, labels give you access to resources that you wouldn't otherwise receive. In the public school system in my state, it's convenient to have a designation of "talented and gifted" or TAG. Despite the fact that schools have no money (and therefore no cash for TAG activities), the label can sometimes help you to access services, quicker and with far less hassle.

So it was when my DS14 entered public school for the first time, almost two years ago. Homeschoolers (and public schoolers/educators, for that matter) may be interested in knowing what's happened with him. It may apply to kiddos you know.

DS14 is bright. No doubt. However, in our state, "bright" isn't enough. In order to receive a TAG label, you have to qualify using more than one piece of information. One of these MUST be a nationally standardized test, scoring above the 97%.

So, consider. I send a child to school who has, for seven long years, been taught to THINK...not to TAKE TESTS. I ask to have him tested, knowing full well that he has the ability to qualify.

He takes the computerized test. Comes home that day and says, "I wrote some comments in the comment box below a couple of the questions."


"Because several of the questions didn't have any correct answers."

WHAT?? I'm sure that's what the public school teachers would have said, too. Let me explain.

For much of my ds's life, he's participated in testing curriculum. That's right. TESTING CURRICULUM. On a daily basis, we made note of which questions needed editing. Which were confusing. And which were simply *wrong.* I taught my son to be critical of outside sources.

I taught him well. So well, that he missed TAG qualification in his first round of testing...because he was testing the testers.

I explained to him that these tests have been thoroughly checked and that he could be sure (ha...relatively) that one of the answers was right.

So he went back to public school and took more tests. His scores went up. And more tests. His scores went up. And more tests. His scores went up. After exactly ONE YEAR in public school, he tested at the 99th percentile and qualified for TAG.

What does this tell me?

Nothing that will surprise you, I'm sure. But the system of testing to qualify for TAG is insufficient at best, harmful at worst. My son was a brilliant, creative thinker--clearly TAG material--but it took him a year to learn enough test taking skills (by doing it over and over and over again) in order to qualify. (Either that or he gained so much "content" in one year of public school that his scores skyrocketed!!)

I am very aware of a great number of kids who will never qualify based on tests. Kids who've experienced early trauma. Have large stressors in their lives. Or simply freak-out when it's test time. We know that the thinking parts of the brain basically go into lock-down when stressed or anxious. So how are kids under stress ever supposed to qualify?

Maybe it doesn't matter. No money exists for services anyway. But how have we reached a point where the ability to fill-in bubbles counts for more than the ability to think creatively, pose interesting questions, and problem solve?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry, I realized I was rambling when I reread my comment. I'm curious to know if you will continue with public schooling for D14 and why you have chosen to put him back in school.

  3. You know I was raised in the former Soviet Union, and my husband is from Germany. We discuss often how different our education was from what it is here. We didn't have multiple choice tests, and the gifted students were identified mostly through contents where the right answer was not as important as the whole proof or solution that showed reasoning capabilities. I am sure we lost a lot of gifted students too, but I still like contests a lot more than tests. I won't deny that test-taking is an important skill to learn in our society, but it shouldn't be used for TAG program entry.

  4. Oh, I loved your comments. Wish you'd left them. Yes, we'll continue with ps. Despite all the current problems with education, I know that I don't have enough content knowledge to teach my kids college prep classes...nor do I want to enroll them early in community college or drive around the country taking them to classes, etc. In addition, my oldest graduated from high school with 55 hours of college credit for almost no $. That's huge.

    While I think the whole "socialization" thing is a sham, my kids have very much enjoyed broadening their social lives as they've entered school in junior high/middle school. It's been good for them. And they've been able to do some things (drama, speech, etc.) that they couldn't do at nearly the same level in our homeschool community.

    I don't AT ALL blame people for homeschooling through high school. It's just not for us. At least not right now.

  5. That is my dilemma...would hate to put her through middle and high school but I don't know if I can homeschool through those years either. I would rather send her to community college classes but only if there are other students her age who are attending. It's a bit daunting to think too far right now.

  6. I only think into next week. That's complicated enough! ;)

    And by the time your sweetie is that old, things may be totally different...for homeschool, for public school...who knows?

    Keep enjoying TODAY! ;) Cause you are an AWESOME teacher and you have a sweet, sweet student! ;)

  7. @Raising a Happy Child...I wish that we valued the ability to reason a LOT more!

  8. What a wonderful post! My 5th grade daughter only enjoyed homeschool from 4th grade onwards. The first year we still followed her old school's curriculum as we hoped to come back at that time (we withdrew for health reasons). That year she took the standardized test and scored a composiute score of 99%. We decided against testing this year. Since it will be mandatory 6th grade onwards in our state, I figure we'll not waste time on it this year. Testing can result in different things. Frustration and feelings of failure in some, even though the child is amazingly gifted; or success and a confidence boost. We tend not to dwell on it too much. We find problems even with some questions in workbooks. At times the questions are poorly worded, leave out some important data, or are plain stupid. My daughter always gets caught on those questions because they drive her nuts. She brings them to me with a 3 minute explanation while the question is poorly worded at best and plain daft at worst.
    Testing is a joke in this country. Sorry, if that ruffles feathers. I didn't go to school in America and so, when I came here and saw what the tests are like here, I was shocked. Formulating and penning an intelligent answer is apparently not required. The only skill a student needs to have is to filter the obvious wrong 50% answers in a question and then choose between the two remaining answers and color in a little circle. In other words... my daughter is doomed because I make her write answers...

    sorry this took so long... :)

  9. @ Marlis...thank you for your thoughtful comments. I so agree.


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