Friday, February 19, 2010

The New Child-Testing Craze

Gifted Exchange garners a mention in NurtureShock authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's new piece in The Daily Beast: The New Child-Testing Craze.

We are grateful for the shout-out, but I worry that their writings on this topic aren't being read as carefully as one might hope.

Bronson and Merryman repeat their point from NurtureShock that a child with a tested IQ of 130 at age 4 may not necessarily test in the gifted range later, then go on to say that unfortunately other tests aren't any more reliable (such as those designed to see if kids can get along with others, follow teacher instructions, etc.).

Thus, they write, admission to gifted programs can be random, "save for an occasional bona fide prodigy who blows the top off these tests."

The problem is that this is an exception that is worth thinking about. While there may not be a big difference between a child with a 125 IQ, and a 130 IQ, and IQ can change over time, there are ways to deal with this. First, you can test multiple times. Kids can go in and out of gifted programs. And most fundamentally, gifted education should be viewed as an accommodation for kids who need it, not some sort of reward. That's one reason that acceleration (grade skipping) is often a pretty good option. It's not a special program where you get to go to science museums on Friday. It's what everyone else is getting... just a few years ahead.

But while there may not be a big difference between 125 and 130, there is a difference between 100 and 160, which Bronson and Merryman readily point out. Unfortunately, I think that point often gets lost in the recent craze (see the New York magazine article recently) to claim that giftedness is a myth.


Ashley Merryman said...

Hi, Laura:

(Sorry we didn't get a link to you in the piece - tech-challenged.)

But I would ask you and your readers to consider that there is a more fundamental problem throughout coverage of kids in elite schools / gifted programs. And it isn't in a reader's insufficiently paying attention to the text.

The problem is that the term "gifted" can mean anything from kids with above-average intelligence to the true prodigy/genius. If it were up to me, I would just abandon the use of the term "gifted" altogether. But I wish we would at least stop using "gifted" as a synonym for genius and/or prodigy.

That's because we have to keep in mind that an 120 IQ is the starting point for many gifted programs around the country. Recall that the average IQ of college grad is 120, the average PhD IQ is 130. So these programs are NOT looking for prodigies. All most are trying to do is find kids who have the potential to go to college. That's it.

As such, millions of kids are in gifted programs, and only a tiny number of them are at a true genius level.

Using gifted and prodigy/genius synonymously, while framing the conversation around the gifted (but really a prodigy's needs), confuses the issue; it paralyzes conversation about meaningful reform of the vast majority of gifted programs.

A dialogue about prodigies, that might be interesting to have, but we would have to be clear how very few kids we were talking about. And to use very clear definitions as to what standards applied to those kids.

(Could we not say that prodigy/genius is ill-served in that 120+ program as well? )

I would also like your readers to note that we did make the point that retesting, readmission, is a viable option (your post suggests that we didn't address those), one the scholars support. But we should also acknowledge that the reality is that there are few schools/districts that allow it to happen.

Thanks very much.

Ashley Merryman

Kevin said...

I would argue that the IQ 120 student is poorly served in most school districts (which aim their instruction at the kids who might move from failing to passing the state tests, say about IQ 90).

The IQ 130+ kids (the most common boundary I've seen for gifted programs) are even less well served. The rarer IQ 145+ kids are even less likely to get adequate education without special measures.

I'm in agreement with the basic premise that acceleration (particularly subject acceleration) is a low-cost way to accommodate gifted students, and that the standard pull-out programs often totally miss the mark.
Grouping students by readiness to study a particular subject is probably the best approach, both for the advanced students and the ones who are behind.
It's too bad that narrow-minded ideology has made this simple practice anathema to many educators.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where the fact that fully a third of the top performing third graders were low performers in kindergarten came from. When I checked the ECLS K for the 5th grade, only about 10% of those who scored in the top third for reading and math had scored in the bottom third for those categories at kindergarten entry. Over 65% of those in the top third at the start of kindergarten were still in the top third in 5th grade and less than 10% had fallen to the bottom third.

hschinske said...

"And there’s a few public school gifted programs—such as in Seattle—that make the students retest every three years to be sure they still belong."

Not sure where they got that idea. Seattle Public Schools certainly does not do this.

In any case, *any* measure of very young children is going to be difficult, precisely because their development is so uneven and they don't cooperate with testing. You get (a) a lot of kids being underestimated due to being wiggly and uncooperative, which skews the norms so that (b) the occasional child who is good at sitting still and not blowing the questions off gets an undue advantage. The problem is compounded when you're not even talking about proper IQ tests, but about grade-level paper-and-pencil tests like the CogAT or OLSAT (often given in kindergarten).

Many districts have an arbitrary cutoff on such grade-level tests that is so high that the child must get essentially a perfect score, but they refuse to use out-of-level tests. The result is that they get the kids who are very, very accurate at grade level -- those students are almost surely pretty bright, but they aren't necessarily those with the greatest need for beyond-level curriculum.

Kim Moldofsky said...

"And most fundamentally, gifted education should be viewed as an accommodation for kids who need it, not some sort of reward." I say that quite often. I believe the general public does not accept this as truth, however.