Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Opal Mehta and the Prodigy Puzzle, Redux (another long post)

A few months ago on this blog, I wrote about the dearth of literary prodigies. Mathematicians? Musicians? Sure. But you don't see a lot of teens and early 20-somethings cranking out great literature. I said this was partly due to young people not having experienced the full range of human emotions. But then I was happy to learn a 17-year-old Indian-American woman named Kaavya Viswanathan had written a funny, smart book called "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" about the trials of getting into Harvard. She got a $500,000 3-book contract (the stuff we writers dream about, by the way).

Well, the story appears to be too good to true. Viswanathan lifted whole passages from another young adult novel, then claimed she'd merely "internalized" them from reading the other author's books so many times. Disturbing to me -- though not to others -- is that she shares the book's copyright with a book packager. Apparently, even the idea of this book was not entirely Viswanathan's own. A company helped shape it to be more marketable, and took a chunk of the payment. Normally, an author's agent and publisher help with this, so the fact that her publisher enlisted a book packager implies that they were really pushing to get a young author out there when perhaps Viswanathan's career would have benefitted from waiting (Or not. Many authors would kill to get on the Today show, even if it was because they were accused of plaigerizing).

Anyway, I've been reading about Viswanathan/Opal Mehta at the same time that I saw an Oprah show yesterday on "Little Geniuses." Some of the kids really were. A 16-year-old girl was able to compose piano pieces based on a random series of notes chosen by Oprah. Now, there are rules to that game which makes it less mind-blowing than on first glance, but it's still very impressive.

Others just seemed, well, as well-packaged as Opal Mehta wound up being to get into Harvard. A young man named Noah McCullough was trotted out as a potential presidential candidate in 2032. He's actually written a book (published by Random House) of presidential trivia. He gave pretty vague answers to the political questions, which had Oprah saying she'd vote for him (in reality, he did a political tour last year that was arranged by a Social Security privatization group -- something I support, but which I'm fairly sure Oprah does not -- but hey, why grill a kid on his actual positions?).

Anyway, he reminded me a lot of a kid I went to high school with. This kid had also calculuated the date he intended to become president, and when exactly he could run for Congress. He wore blazers and campaigned in the halls, etc. I Googled my old classmate for the fun of it the other day. He's a corporate lawyer in Illinois. Nothing wrong with that at all. But we've passed the date when he could become a Congressman. Indeed, he could be getting on people's radar screens to run for president in 2012. He isn't.

Saying you want to do something as a kid, and having people humor you or trot you out as the "face" of saving Social Security is one thing. Actually doing it as an adult is another. Likewise, young McCullough may want to run in 2032 as a 37-year-old, but if there's a popular Republican incumbent then, his party won't allow him to. This is the nature of looking at the harsh moment when dreams have to become reality, when one no longer inhabits the when-I-grow-up world. I worry McCullough will hit puberty, get other interests, use his Social Security tour as a package to get into a good college, then encounter a dozen other kids who will campaign just as hard for freshman class president as he does. He'll lose to the kid from a school that sent the most kids to his particular university. And McCullough will say the heck with politics and wind up working for McKinsey.

I have mixed feelings about all this. I truly want bright young kids to have big opportunities. I also know that prodigies stuck in the limelight have a way of flaming out. The problem is that this winds up lending credence to the idea that prodigies flame out, and thus they shouldn't be given special opportunities when they are little.

But gifted kids need to be challenged regardless of what they'll accomplish later in life. That's a matter of simple fairness, not just investing in the future. I'm thrilled that McCullough has been able to indulge his love of presidential trivia. I wish more kids could dive so deeply into something they love. And I was thrilled that Viswanathan got a chance to write. But now any other 17-year-old coming to a publisher with a novel will be greeted with a cold stare. All because some packagers wanted to make a quick buck and pulled a novel out of this young woman quicker than she could actually write it herself, and because a publisher wanted to get a fresh new face out there so badly they didn't vet the manuscript.

I think we need less talk of prodigies, and more of meeting kids' needs. When all highly gifted kids have a chance to satisfy their passions and learn as quickly as they desire, then so-called "prodigies" will be less of media events. They'll just be kids doing what they love. Then, all talented 17-year-old writers will have access to grown-up writers who can help them improve their craft and perhaps try for publication if their pieces are good. The few whose schools or families figure out how to play the game won't be delivered to book publishers keen on making a splash. They won't be seen as newsworthy solely because of their age. And, as a result, we'll have fewer flame-outs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Talent Searches

Gifted middle school students around the country took the SAT or ACT this winter as part of "talent searches" run by universities including Duke, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins. Most have gotten their results, and some are now signing up for summer programs offered through these universities (for instance, I read the tale of two Texas students who will be attending summer programs on scholarship, here.)

I'm glad these talent searches and summer programs exist. I participated in the Midwest Talent Search in 7th and 8th grade. My school system had a little ceremony called "Achievers All" (we wouldn't want to suggest that not all students achieve, would we?) that honored all talent search participants and others who had good middle school attendance records, etc. I went to academic summer camps at Northwestern because of my SAT scores. It's safe to say the three weeks I spent at Northwestern University each of those summers were the absolute highlight of those years. But then what? Most students who are "identified" as highly gifted through high scores on out-of-level tests go right back into their age-grade level classes. Indeed, I wrote a piece for USA Today three years ago called SAT Talent Searches Lead Nowhere for Many with stories from some of these kids. When information isn't used, it's pretty much useless. Even if you do get a small trophy from the school for your efforts.

So what should happen? Parents and the talent searches need to push schools to have a policy that a high score on an out-of-level test triggers an individual education plan meeting. In an ideal world, a representative from the talent search would also be part of that meeting, to offer ideas for accommodations (many schools and parents aren't aware of all the options).

Schools love talent searches -- you get to advertise about your high scorers -- so I'd love to see the searches play hard ball. If you do nothing with the scores, we cut your school from the program. Any kid, after all, can sign up for the SAT if he wants, on his own. Families can participate even if schools are blacklisted. But if searches made known a list of schools unwilling to accommodate children, that could shake things up a bit.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spelling Bees

The new movie Akeelah and the Bee, about a girl from LA who wants to compete in the National Spelling Bee, is sparking some renewed interest in these contests. The National Spelling Bee has been a bit of a draw for curiosity-seekers since Rebecca Sealfon shouted out "euonym" to win it in 1997. Indeed, small children who can spell big words are always a TV draw, showing up on Jay Leno, Oprah, etc.

My one run at spelling bee glory was in 4th grade, when I was a runner-up in the 4th (or possibly 5th) grade Washington Elementary School Spelling Bee in Raleigh, NC. I lost when I spelled "attorney" wrong (little knowing that 15 years later I'd marry one). I blame my lapse on the fact that I studied the whole spelling list we'd been given, A-Z, not realizing that the bored teacher tasked with runnning the thing would only ask words from the A section. Turns out I should have concentrated my cramming there.

But I digress. My mixed feelings about spelling bees come not from my own lack of ability to spell, but because they're mostly about memorization. Rebecca Sealfon talks about the memorizing regimen she used in this article from the Nassau Weekly (a Princeton paper I used to write for, here. (Sealfon graduated in 2005 with a biology degree, and also studied creative writing). While Sealfon is very intelligent, broadly, the ability to memorize is not the same thing as intelligence. Intelligence involves piecing bits of information together, discerning patterns, and solving problems. There is some element of this in spelling bees ("eu" is Latin root for "true," "-onym" for name; so if you were told or knew the word meant a well-suited name, you could figure this out). But generally, students who do well in spelling bees have been drilling words from the dictionary into their heads. English is not a language well-suited to discerning patterns and piecing together spellings based on that information.

There is nothing wrong, per se, with a contest that rewards memorization. Nor is there anything wrong with kids devoting themselves to a goal and training hard for it. Kids do this all the time in rather useless sports; the fact that spelling is a rather useless skill these days shouldn't detract from the hard work winners like Sealfon put in to their victories.

The problem is that the population-at-large then thinks the ability to memorize is what being bright is about. Very bright toddlers often memorize things as they try to learn about their world. But being able to recite the long names of dinosaurs does a lot less for you as you get older. The kids on the Leno show may pursue that interest in paleontology when they grow up, but then being "good" at dinosaurs will mean discerning patterns from random bones, recalling links to other species found nearby, and using all the available research tools to learn more about the prehistoric world. I'd love to see a contest for kids that tapped all these skills. Then I'd love to see it get as much press as the National Spelling Bee. But "a-ha" moments don't necessarily make for good television. Or movies. So we get dramatic spelling moments, where the answer is clear-cut. Too bad learning in general doesn't work that way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Izzy the Impatient

So I was in the children's section of Borders last night looking for a book I'm mentioning in Grindhopping (the picture book is "Big Sister, Little Sister," by LeUyen Pham, who's a great young illustrator if anyone's looking for kids' picture books). While there, I was reminded of something. It's quite difficult to find good kids' books for very bright young kids. This is particularly true for 6- or 7-year-olds who are reading at an adult level. Most adult books have more adult themes than 6- or 7-year-olds can handle. So what do you do? The Harry Potter books are wonderful in this regard, as are Madeleine L'Engle and others whose work can be enjoyed by young and old alike. But even Harry Potter and Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain can be a little dark at times for six-year-olds who have nightmares. I'm curious what books parents have found to be best for these adult-level readers who aren't quite adults.

The other thought I had while there is that the morality tales you see in children's literature are sometimes too cut and dried. Remembering the "Mr. Man" books from my own childhood, I had a brainstorm. I'd love to see a kids' picture book that stated that impatience is not always a bad thing. Gifted young kids are impatient to learn!

I'm thinking a little girl named Izzy could star in this role. She'd be 3. She'd do things like call out words on signs and spell words when people say them. Someone would say "how many is this?" holding up fingers in the supermarket line, and she'd tell them "nine fingers -- that's three threes." Some astonished people would tell her "Slow down little one!" Maybe even well-meaning people like the mailman, neighbors, etc. She's a little confused by this. What did she do wrong?

The plot thickens. She could also have a garden she works on with her parents in the back yard. She gets impatient waiting for the plants to come up and so digs them out. Her mom or dad will then say that sometimes it's not OK to be impatient. It certainly doesn't help the plants. But with learning, sometimes it is OK. There's a lot to learn in this world, and there's no reason to slow down if you don't want to.

Of course, the third thing I observed in Borders is that half the kids' books are now "written" by celebrities, as it's one of the few ways to be sure a book will stand out in the glut of picture books. So I guess I'd have to get Madonna to illustrate Izzy the Impatient if I was going to have any hopes of it going anywhere. :)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Another Early College Story

Following on the Mary Baldwin post, here's a story of a youngster going to an A-list college at an early age. Joe Fang, a senior at North Gwinnett High School in Georgia, is most likely on his way to MIT next fall. He's also 15 years old. You can read his profile in the Gwinnett Daily Post, here .

I found a few absolutely refreshing statements in this article. First, Joe's acceleration began when an elementary school teacher noticed he was very bright, and decided to test him to see if he could take more advanced classes. “She realized that I had a special talent in math,” Joe said. “I did really well, so they let me keep going.” Did I read that right? "They let me keep going..." He was simply allowed to work at his own pace. No one got particularly angst-ridden about it. What a contrast between this situation and the district in Kentucky I wrote about recently that sent a family a bill for having the audacity to put their 5-year-old daughter in first grade!

Second, what about the "problem" of being much younger than his classmates? Apparently Joe didn't get too stressed out about that either. “They knew I was younger, and a lot of them already knew me,” Joe said of his classmates. “I really was not scared at all because I was already used to taking classes with older kids.”

I'm glad Joe had an understanding school system that saw no reason to hold him back when he was capable of doing more advanced work. The article notes that mom and dad are a little worried about sending him so far away for college, but my guess is that he'll do OK. Hopefully there will be a follow up article letting us know, so we can add this story to the "Lives of Purpose" collection from Mary Baldwin.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Gifted Group Reunites

Mary Baldwin College's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) is the only all-women's residential college program for teenage girls in the US. Basically, students skip all of high school and enroll in PEG after (usually) their 8th grade year.

The program has now been around for about 20 years. The school staged a reunion recently, which was covered in the Staunton, VA News Leader in an article by Christina Murphy.

The first young women to attend PEG are now in their 30's. They have entered a variety of professions in addition to raising families. A book about them called "Lives of Purpose" is forthcoming (note to the researchers whose findings will be presented in the book: Are you still looking for a writer?)

Anyway, I find the subject fascinating. These young women, like the young people discussed in the Dropout Nation post, decided not to attend high school for whatever reason. Maybe they were ready for a new challenge. Maybe they were bored, or maybe they didn't fit in well at regular high schools. Skipping high school is almost sacrilege in this country that worships Friday night football games, proms and the like. In a fractured culture, high school is the closest thing to unity we've got. These girls sailed over it.

Like the USA Today All-Star academic teams, there's a word of caution. I'm sure we'll discover as we read "Lives of Purpose" that we haven't heard of any of the first cohorts of PEG women. That's the problem with justifying such programs by claiming they'll produce the leaders of the future who will cure cancer and write the Great American novel, or what have you. Very few people do these things. The chances that the "very few" segment overlaps with the PEG segment of individuals is low.

But, these women have had fairly happy, successful lives. That fact, in and of itself, indicates that high school is not always necessary. Something to think about.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dropout Nation (Warning: this is a long post…)

Time magazine has a cover story this week called “Dropout Nation,” which talks about this national problem through the lens of one small town known as Shelbyville, Indiana. The magazine did a tie-in on the piece with the Oprah Winfrey show. That means I got a double dose of Dropout Nation and Shelbyville during my daily 4pm jog on the treadmill in front of the TV yesterday.

Anyway, all these photos and camera shots of the bleak Indiana landscape are giving me one main thought. I am so grateful that I am no longer in middle or high school. Time mentions a scene from the cafeteria where “like high schoolers everywhere, they have arranged themselves by type: jocks, preps, cheerleaders, dorks, punks and gamers, all with tables of their own.”

One young woman in the story, Susan, “an honors student her freshman year,” rebels against the scene. “The social cauldron of high school weighed on her. She didn’t get along with the cheerleaders on the yearbook staff. And her avid interest in Stephen King novels and TV shows about forensics earned her a false reputation, she says, as a glum goth girl. So she started ditching class, barreling through the Indiana countryside alone in her Dodge Neon, blasting her favorite song, The Ghost of You, by My Chemical Romance … For her, sitting in a classroom biting her tongue and waiting to graduate when college wasn’t necessarily in her future was a form of inaction. Working, saving money, starting her adult life – that was taking the initiative.”

Oh dear. Substitute Alanis Morissette for the band Susan likes and you could get a good snapshot of my feelings during early adolescence. Mavis Leno (wife of Jay) has a great quote I found once that goes something like “I could be happy my whole life knowing I will never have to live through middle school again.” Beautiful, brilliant Mavis! If she hated it, what hope is there for the rest of us? The one difference between Susan and me is that I was pretty sure college would be better. I also transferred for my last two years of high school to the Indiana Academy, a school for gifted students, that made me stretch my mind and discover that one’s teen years didn’t have to be a complete waste of time.

But back to Dropout Nation. The Time article and Oprah show treatment made it clear that the bleakness of the Indiana landscape is echoed in the bleakness of a lot of high school kids’ lives. The nation’s high drop-out rate (about 1 in 3 kids who start high school won’t finish in 4-5 years) is the result.

Let’s get one bad idea out of the way. The bulk of kids who drop out do not do so because high school is too tough. Time reports that 88% of dropouts received passing grades. “Asked to name the reasons they had left school, more respondents named boredom than struggles with course work.” Indeed, in Genius Denied, the Davidsons and I report that studies find about 20% of high school dropouts actually test in the gifted
range.

Kids drop out because they find that high school is neither challenging nor relevant. Time dances around a response to this, but I’d wager that for the bulk of American kids, these dropouts are absolutely right.

First, the lack-of-challenge part: Oprah did one heart-wrenching segment on a young woman who was the valedictorian of her Tennessee high school. She went to a state university, and floundered in her classes. She was bright but her school demanded little of her to earn those top grades. The cameras also followed a group of bright youngsters from a Chicago school as they toured well-to-do Naperville, Illinois’s high school. One young woman sat in on a trigonometry class and said she thought the teacher was speaking a different language.

The show didn’t dwell long on these issues. It’s easier to make a big deal about the fact that Naperville had a nicer weight room than the Chicago school. But physical facilities are one thing. The lack of challenge to these kids’ brains is the real rotting that’s going on. It wasn’t until I attended the Indiana Academy that I discovered what it was like to study for a test and work hard for my grades. About 40% of college kids require remedial classes to get up to standard. Clearly, a big chunk of young people aren’t pushing their brains – or having them pushed.

Second, high schools were designed for the industrial economy. That economy has almost disappeared. Few people move with a whistle now, but high school students still change classes with a bell. High school kids learn things in discrete units called subjects, just as factory workers do discrete tasks. But my work isn’t divided into subjects. The other day, I was writing a book chapter that delved into calculus (briefly). Combining language arts and math – is that even allowed?

Furthermore, one of the reasons employers have always valued a high school diploma over a GED is that a high school diploma shows you’ll stick with the system. You’ll get up every morning and go somewhere you’re supposed to, and work with the people you’re assigned to, whether you like it or not.

Even that work format is changing. I got up every morning and went somewhere I was supposed to for one year out of college. Then I decided to strike out on my own. This morning I got up at 6:30 am, but yesterday morning I didn’t haul myself out of bed until 9:30am. I just got out of my pajamas a few minutes ago (at 10:30 am EST). If I want to go watch TV, I can, or make myself a snack. All that matters is that the work gets done. True, most workers don’t have this kind of freedom, but there are 10.3 million independent contractors in the US, and there are about 18 million “non-employer businesses” (meaning firms owned, run and operated by one person). These numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. We live how we want for the most part. There is absolutely nothing in the high school curriculum or format that would prepare you for a free agent life, or even the corporate life of most knowledge workers.

I don’t know how to change that. As I’ve said in my other blog posts, attempts to make school more flexible tend to wind up lowering standards, because most people work hardest for external rewards. Homeschooling comes closest to the kind of work many knowledge workers will do with their lives, but it’s hardly a large scale solution. We need more brilliant teachers, more high standards, more links between the workplace and school. We need more rigorous independent projects, more chances to audit community college courses, and more individualized curriculum. I’ll explore some more ideas in upcoming blog posts.

But what’s saddest is that the kids who most realize the irrelevance and lack of challenge in high school are the ones who pay the highest price because of that realization. If you lack a high school diploma, you lose most meaningful job opportunities, and you have very little chance of ever going to college. Because of this, some states are raising the age at which you’re allowed to drop out of high school. It’s an easy solution – but changing the irrelevance and lack of challenge would go a lot farther to restoring America’s competitiveness.

Monday, April 10, 2006

NJ Governor's School Gone... For Lack of $1.92 Million

Unless something changes soon, six hundred bright New Jersey high school juniors will soon receive a rather ominous letter. It will inform them that, thanks for all the work you've done applying for Governor's School -- a prestigious, free summer program for the state's top students -- but the funds were cut retroactively from the 2006 budget. Governor's School no longer exists. Find other plans for the summer.

New Jersey, like many states, has been having budget trouble of late, and has been trying to figure out which programs to cut. Governor's School wound up landing on the chopping block. What's saddest, though, is that the $1.92 million this program cost was the only state funding for gifted education in New Jersey. Local school districts offer programs if they have the cash. Not surprisingly, well-to-do districts are more likely to have the cash than poor ones. Well-to-do students can also afford to attend summer programs for the gifted at various universities such as Johns Hopkins and Harvard. New Jersey just cut one of the only programs that reached gifted kids who weren't well-to-do.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jonathan Last has an op-ed about the cuts in Sunday's paper called "Gifted Students Shortchanged."

Based on some previous discussions on this blog, I don't like the idea of pitting children against children, but Last does point out that the education cuts were not shared equally. Some programs, such as special education, gained funding. New Jersey will spend $1.6 billion on special education next year. No doubt those funds will do a lot of good for special needs kids. But it is sad that the state could find $1.6 billion for special education and absolutely nothing for gifted education. Guess bright kids without extra income are on their own.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Declining Field Trips and NCLB?

To the list of things people are blaming on No Child Left Behind, add field trips. Reporter Michael Winerip had an interesting article in Wednesday's New York Times called "No Child Left Behind? Ask the Gifted." It's a somewhat disjointed piece that seems mostly about this cool trip one gifted class got to take to Ellis Island, coupled with a few paragraphs on the decline of gifted education, coupled with another on the decline of field trips. I'm happy the class got to take their field trip and we talk about declining gifted education a lot, so I'll concentrate on the stats on the field trip's decline.

According to Winerip, "Peter O'Connell, who runs the educational program at the national park in Lowell, Mass., just completed a survey of school visits to 10 history museums in New England, including Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth Plantation. He found a 20 percent decline in student visits in the last few years. 'Schools aren't devoting as much time to history, especially urban districts,' Dr. O'Connell said."

Now there's plenty not to like about NCLB, but after a while it gets a little tedious to have everything blamed on it. I suspect that with field trips, schools are using NCLB as an excuse, not an actual reason. The teacher profiled in Winerip's piece is an excellent, high-energy teacher. She looks forward to taking her class to Ellis Island every year. Many teachers are not so excited about these things. I had plenty of social studies and history teachers who managed to never leave the school building, long before NCLB. Organizing kids and sack lunches and parental chaperones and permission slips is work. Why take on more work if there's a ready excuse not to?

Actually, the more I think about it, I suspect some local districts that have cut funding for gifted education and have blamed NCLB are following the same line of reasoning. Among a certain set of educators trained in false notions of equality, gifted education is a constant thorn in the side. If there's an available reason to get rid of it -- a big, unpopular reason decreed by far-away lawmakers you can do nothing about -- why not seize it?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Accelerating for Better Careers

A recent op-ed in the Coloradoan pointed out an interesting little nugget from Louis Terman's longitudinal research following children with high IQs. Apparently, children who graduated from high school at age 15 had "superior careers" to those who graduated at 17. The children had similar IQs. Starting your career earlier, it turns out, increases the chances you'll do great things with it (you can read the piece, which just covers acceleration in general, here).

I find this fascinating given all the articles of late about "Adultolescents," or "Twixters" (to use Time's phrase) or "Rejuveniles" to use the title of a new book by Christopher Noxon coming out in June. It's taking kids in general a lot longer to grow up these days. Gifted young people are taking even longer, given that many of them pursue advanced degrees after college. I suspect this extended adolescence is the reason so few grown-up gifted kids in the SMPY co-hort had had children by age 35. I read one study on English PhDs from the Modern Language Association that found 95% of students took more than 5 years to obtain their PhDs. In the best case scenario, these young people are 27 by the time they finish school and start working, and in normal scenarios, they're a lot older ...

...unless they're accelerated. A kid who graduated from high school at 15 could be done with college at 19 and pursuing advanced studies in the field of his choosing while most people are still choosing majors (and figuring out that "Beast" is a nickname for Milwaukee's Best). Sure there's a lot of fun stuff you experience by being the normal college age during college, but there's a lot of time-wasting stuff too. Gifted kids are often deeply interested in the fields in which their talents lie. Forcing them to spend 18 years pursuing generalist knowledge they could compact into far fewer years keeps them from devoting time to their passions.

As people have pointed out in other threads on this blog, if you devote more time to your passion, you often become very good at it. So no wonder accelerated kids do better in their careers. I don't know if it's an argument that would persuade a reluctant school, but it's worth a shot.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Trials of Gifted Bilingual Students

Two posts ago I wrote about an Arizona Republic columnist who pitted gifted kids against English language learners in a way that suggested kids couldn't possibly be both. Now I've learned, according to a South Bend Tribune article, that kids who are both face a very interesting, very modern problem. Namely, states have an incentive to claim that anyone who does well in school and is from a family that hasn't been in this country long, is part of their bilingual program. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires states to test their English language learners on English proficiency, and rates states based on passing rates. So even if you've been speaking English fluently for years and are completely mainstreamed, the state will pull you out of class to take the exam so it can include your high score in its average. That's what happened to Maymay Lam and Thuy Nguyen of Riley High School in South Bend. You can read their story here.

Basically, these girls who speak English as well as any of us were pulled out of their advanced classes for hours and forced to take a test that featured oral questions like "Example: Martha went to the store to buy groceries. Question: What did Martha do?" Then the teacher would hold up a picture of a chair and ask "what is this?" and "how do you use it?" Lam refused to take the rest of the test, saying it was insulting. Now the state is saying she doesn't have any choice; they are "forced" to do this through NCLB, even though Lam was born in the United States. Because she speaks Chinese at home, Indiana is trying to rope her in.

I hope Lam prevails in her fight. When I was a high school student in Indiana, I managed to get out of taking a basic 10th grade test that would have required me to miss days of my calculus class simply to be a guinea pig for the new test the state was thinking of using. My family said I would stay home; eventually, my school agreed I didn't have to take it. These families are already a step ahead of the game by calling up the local paper. With any luck, other families will be inspired to fight this time-waster as well.