The school year is drawing to a close, and around the country, middle schools are hauling out the podiums and the fruit punch, and holding ceremonies at which they celebrate their high achievers.
Chief among these are students who have participated in talent searches -- usually when a university gives out-of-level tests (SAT, ACT) to young teens to see how they do. (For one such article, see this piece from the LA Times). The theory behind talent searches is that while highly gifted kids max out at the 99th percentile on grade level tests, out-of-level tests can show the kids who are truly capable of more advanced work.
But, as usually happens with things in gifted education, something has gone a bit awry along the way. A talent search is supposed to be a diagnostic -- showing what a child is capable of, so that schools can arrange for more challenging work if necessary. But, instead, it's become more of an excuse for an awards ceremony to "celebrate" an achievement, as if it's a real achievement to score highly on a diagnostic test. If you study a unit in biology very hard, and then do well on a test, that may be an achievement worth celebrating. But celebrating a high score on a talent search diagnostic is like taking a kid out for ice cream because she did well on an IQ test. It misses the point.
But you can see why schools generally like talent searches and like to hold award ceremonies for the students who participate. Who wouldn't want a headline that a handful of your district's middle schoolers scored as high as college-bound high school seniors on the SAT?
Don't get me wrong -- kids like the attention too. But the problem with these ceremonies is that for the vast majority of students who score highly on out-of-level tests, the ceremonies are the end of the line. These kids are never given anything more challenging to do in school. The well-to-do ones can take summer classes at universities. But most pick up their certificates, enjoy the applause, collect copies of the newspaper story from their neighbors, and go right back into 8th grade pre-algebra.
That's too bad, because while celebrating high test scores is one thing, actually nurturing a bright young mind so the young person can achieve real things in the future is far better.
I am curious what the readers of this blog have encountered in terms of awards ceremonies for high scorers on out-of-level talent search tests. Did your districts do anything with the results?