Friday, July 07, 2006

Keeping Our Edge

The Educational Testing Service (the folks who run the SAT) recently released the results of its annual poll on how American schools are doing. The results, which can be found here, show a few interesting results for gifted kids and folks who care about them.

For starters, the poll provides a useful teaching tool on how answers vary depending on how you ask the question. Half of Americans said schools are doing enough to challenge the brightest students; 46% said schools were coming up short. Among college faculty, 69% said schools were coming up short. Fair enough.

Pollsters also asked respondents to identify major problems facing the schools (from a list). 64% of Americans said that it was a big problem that gifted kids were not being sufficiently challenged to be able to compete with the best students from around the world. 84% of college faculty identified this as a big problem.

So in both cases, a good portion of people said the lack of challenge was a big problem, but they wouldn't claim schools weren't doing enough? Hmmm.... I'm still trying to figure this one out.


June said...

I was able to find a website showing disaggregated data of my
state's standardized test results and compare the district mean with
the mean of the gifted, arrange the data in longitudinal fashion, and show that the gifted make smaller learning gains than the district mean gain. I have done the same for the state data. I have emailed the district board members a copy of my data and the
state data was sent for inclusion in the governor's weekly report. I believe parents must organize, fuss, and reject the status quo. Complacency only allows for the continuation of imposed underachievement. I am the loudest
parent I know and, for that reason alone, my children have been accelerated and access a meaningful curriculum.

Quiltsrwarm said...

I have to chuckle about Laura's comment regarding "how answers [to standardized test questions] vary depending on how you ask the question". I dealt with this problem throughout my childhood -- the way I interpreted the question often gave me the wrong answer. Even if I explained the reason why I got the answer, and that reasoning made the answer correct, my thought processes still made it wrong. I even encountered this on the GRE before graduating college!

My daughter dealt with this constantly at school, even on regular classroom tests, taking her to tears on more than one occasion. My son, in first grade, came up with a math answer that was absolutely correct (hubby has a masters in mathematics and confirmed the correctness of our son's answer :), but in the teacher's mind, the answer was wrong because he went about it the wrong way. This was a teacher known for her abilities to address gifted concerns, too.

Apparently, the idea of divergent thinking is not on the radar of even the brightest teachers, and, obviously, can't be considered in the creation of standardized tests. If answers are considered "wrong", even though they'd be right from a different point of view, how can an accurate score be tallied for that test??? That's why I don't support standardized tests for any child younger than 16, if at all. Though they are a quick and easy way to quantify the gifted population, tests can never show the whole picture and, I'm certain, probably stop many gifteds at the doors that such tests should open for them.

Anonymous said...

I faced similar issues myself, was told by early teachers that "my" (non-standard) ways of thinking might get me the correct answers for a short time, but if I didn't learn the standard methods I wouldn't be able to keep up by high school (or college, or at a professional level). This turned out to be complete nonsense. I never learned a "recipe" for any type of mathematical problem and found that the further I went the more benefit I had.

In 2nd grade I learned how to prove a mathematical fact to a teacher who didn't understand what was wrong with the process she had used. Solving a problem and communicating the solution may involve vastly different ways of thinking. School seemed more about learning the communication part of the process, although this isn't really what they were trying to teach. Tests often felt like a psychological game... very often entertaining, they contained many clues about what the expected answer was that had nothing to do with understanding the supposed subject matter of the question.

Test scores are notoriously poor indicators of learning and understanding. And, what is actually learned in classrooms tends to be different from what is intended. These issues are widely applicable in education.