Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gifted kids and standardized tests

On October 19, the Department of Education released "The Nation's Report Card" -- results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This periodic exercise always gets a lot of attention as we look at how the nation's 4th and 8th graders are doing on reading and math.

There are two long term trends:

1. Since 1992, reading proficiency has been absolutely flat.
2. Since 1992, mathematics proficiency has risen, by 25 points on a 500 point scale for 4th graders, and by 16 points on a 500 point scale for 8th graders.

While the latter sounds impressive, looking at some of the sample questions that only 50-60% of students get right at the NAEP website (
is kind of depressing. The questions are dull, frankly, and so is the reading material. Which is what brings me to the matter of gifted kids and standardized tests.

Yes, I understand that NAEP results are useful and necessary to crafting educational policies. Results are less robust if they doesn't include all students -- including those working several years above grade level. And in theory, participation in NAEP is voluntary for students. You can call in sick. Or sit in a corner.

BUT... I remember taking many a bland standardized test as a student. If you don't have to stretch your brain to take a grade-level test (and few gifted kids do), it's an exercise in profound boredom. It's even worse if, as many a test requires, you can't read quietly at your seat if you finish before the allotted time. The allotted time being eons longer than a gifted kid needs to answer "Which number could go at this point on this line?" in a line with an arrow pointed at the third of three slot marks between 5.4 and 6.2, you get a lot of time to think. I started making doodles, cryptic comments, even writing poems in the margins of the scratch paper you're allowed. I later learned this is what prison inmates do during lockdown when their things are seized from them.

Anyway, reading the results, I can't help but feel for gifted kids drafted into producing this NAEP data. Thanks to their sacrifice of hours of time, we now know that reading scores have been ... absolutely flat for 13 years.

Has anyone tried to get their kids out of standardized testing?


Victoria said...

Personaly yeah the test are boring and really easy. But I've never encountered a standerized test where you couldn't read after or something

Victoria said...

Also, cool new look for the site.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Thanks, Victoria. Glad you like the lay-out. Maybe it's schools that have been burned by cheating that set rules about not reading.

Stormia said...

When I was in middle school, I would read under after tests. I actually liked tests when I could do that. My classes were boring too, but too many of my sixth grade teachers were good at catching me reading! So at least during the tests I got to spend most of my time doing something interesting.

In elementary school though, we had this absolutely awful test called the MSPAP... my mom wasn't much of a fan of it... and conviniently scheduled our family vacation that week! The principal wouldn't even know my name if he saw me in the hallway, but he knew I was one of the better students in my grade, and he was so mad at my mom for taking me away that week. He tried to tell her that she couldn't... but my mom wouldn't listen to him. It was wonderful--I got to be on vacation while everyone took that test, and when I came back, I had absolutely no work to make up.

Stormia said...

Grrr! I changed my first sentence in that comment and now it makes absolutely no sense. Sorry.

"When I was in middle school, I would read under the desk after tests."

Anonymous said...

I hate standardized tests, except for the reading sections. I usually pretend to be checking my work while rereading all of the stories. Last year, though, I had the SAT and I was scared.
Still, I got a pretty good score. . .but I'd rather do that hard test again than do any of the "normal" ones.
Laura, be careful what you write, because I and probably leagues of other gifted kids like to read about giftedness, too!

Anonymous said...

As a kid, I always hated standardized tests. Didn't mind taking them so much, but I always wanted to see what I got wrong. I figured, unless I could see them, I couldn't learn from my mistakes.

But all the tests now are far too high stake, and the kids are overprepped, stressed -- I've heard of 2nd graders not getting recess until after the test, so they had more time to prep! Sheesh! They learn better if they have the exercise of recess.