Thursday, June 19, 2008

Achievers All

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?


Anonymous said...

My dd skipped the state and national awards ceremony for talent search results.

She scored very highly, so a local university gave her a one course tuition waiver and a special office to contact to gain university admission for that course. She hasn't used it yet.

This happened in 7th grade, though, and we've home schooled 7th and 8th grade.

The biggest result we've seen was when we showed her school her 4th grade talent search results (it was the Explore test). Since the school gives the Explore to all their 8th graders, they were very familiar with it. The next year (5th grade) she took Algebra I with the 8th graders.

keelyellenmarie said...

I got fairly lucky. My parents did see the high score as a chance to celebrate, but they also realized that it meant I needed more. My school actually actively DISCOURAGED getting involved in Johns Hopkins CTY program, (we never figured out why, although my mother assumes it was because the counselor's daughter had been rejected from said program) but my parents let me go anyways, even though it was very expensive. Those two summers were both nearly as expensive as a semester of tuition at Purdue (where I go now). But without that, I never would have learned what I was missing out on. Unfortunately, none of the people I knew with similar high scores were pushed... and they stayed where they were. I had to leave my school system to do it, but eventually I got where I needed to be.

Anonymous said...

JHU CTY uses the SCAT test for the lower grades, which is pretty useless for diagnosis and not understood by any school (or much of anyone else).

My son got "1st" at state and national level for both the verbal and math scores, but we didn't bother going to the award ceremony. This was his choice---it wasn't worth the high risk of motion sickness to pick up a piece of paper that would be mailed to us anyway.

We had him take the SAT this year (not through JHU CTY), since that test *is* generally understood. Still waiting for the scores.

Anonymous said...

We showed the scores to school system officials in talks about how they would place DD for 8th grade (she was homeschooling at the time). We asserted she needed to take English and social studies at high school. They didn't want to and offered her placement in a middle school with a math magnet. We declined and she homeschooled for 8th. In our case, the SAT did nothing for a verbally profoundly gifted child. But she was able to take a political science course at a local university. And got an A.

Anonymous said...

I was already in a program for the highly gifted so it didn't make a whole lot of difference. EVERYONE in the program qualified for the Duke talent search (over 100 kids) and everyone got over 1000/1600. We told each other our scores and went to the ceremonies together and a lot of kids spent their summers at Duke from then on to build up their applications to college.It was just another thing you did between math competitions and band concerts.

Anonymous said...

Nope made no difference nor was it recognized. I showed my son's SCAT scores to the districts gifted director and to the school councilor but he still does not qualify as gifted by the district and he has received no acceleration or enrichment other then what I pay for out of pocket (EPGY). At least the councilor knew what she was looking at. It just didn't matter.

Anonymous said...

When we took our 7th grader's very high scores to the appropriate middle school personnel, they bluntly told us that they do absolutely nothing with the test results. He was already in an algebra I course at the high school (Penn in South Bend, which you'll remember), but in his English course, the novel, the one novel study they did for the year, was written on a fourth grade level. He had tested as reading at a post-high school level in third grade, so we pushed back. The "language arts" teacher (hate that term!) gave him and another student To Kill a Mockingbird instead at maternal request. She was vicious throughout the entire process and gave the boys a B at the end of the term. We were duly punished and didn't try again, withdrawing our son the next year. He was much happier in his new school, where freshmen were allowed to take AP calculus!

I'm a little hesitant about identifying the name of the school and being so specific about the novel incident, but it's highly unlikely that anyone from that program would be reading this, considering their general attitudes!