Thursday, September 20, 2012

Testing prep and gifted education

Sometimes I sound like a broken record: gifted education should not be a reward. It should not be the only "good" class in a school or the only "good" school in a district. It should not indicate that a child has achieved something. It should be an educational intervention for children who need it.

But of course, that's not the way many educators and parents see it. I was reminded of this by a press release put out by, a company co-founded by Karen Quinn, author of The Ivy Chronicles. According to the release, the site had been re-launched, "giving parents a whole new set of tools to help their children succeed in the increasingly competitive world of gifted education."

If it's increasingly competitive most places, that must be because schools are cutting seats -- partly because gifted education doesn't seem like a priority when it's spun as something for kids who've been prepped extensively for a test.

Tests inherently have the reality -- perhaps the problem -- that you can prepare for them. When the stakes are high, people will prepare more (witness the cram schools in a place like South Korea). Certainly by doing logic puzzles, you can prepare for IQ tests, and it's possible you'd do better. When gifted education is perceived as a reward -- or, as in NYC, where it gets you out of paying $40,000 in private school tuition if your kid can score a seat in a good program -- people have every incentive to use test prep products.

I'm not sure what to do about that. Perhaps a good screening program could involve all kids doing some amount of test prep. Almost every law school graduate takes a bar prep course; it's kind of built into the system. But I also think it's important to recognize the limits of test prep. Tons of children take SAT prep classes -- and such classes probably raise their scores. But very few children who've taken SAT prep classes or do SAT tutoring actually get perfect scores. The test is not completely coach-able or you'd see people acing it left and right. A high score still shows something.

I'm curious if blog readers have seen an assessment program for a school or district that they thought was done really well.

In other news: I wrote about the Bedtime Math Problem over at Citibank's Women & Co site.


Nother Barb said...

Our school district offers replacement classes in LA and in Math, or both, starting in 3rd grade. Students can be accepted into the program any time until 7th grade. Admission is based on a "matrix", consisting of CogAt and NWEA test scores, classroom teacher observations, and occasionally, if necessary, standardized tests (such as a WISC or Stanford-Benet) administered by the school.

The teacher observation is very important, even more so in 7th grade. Students in the gifted program can go on to take Algebra II/Trigonometry in 8th grade based solely on the 7th grade algebra teacher's recommendation and their final test of the year. The teachers look for highly-abstract thinking, passion, ability, and the "spark", the things that are hard to test. There are no class size limits--but they don't necessarily add classrooms. My son had a class of 32 gifted students; an aide was added halfway through the year. His trig class has 34 (it includes students from a couple other schools, including a parochial school).

The Latin, Spanish, or French teacher can recommend students for Honors in 8th grade based on their total classroom performance. We also offer Mandarin, but it is just a few years old and I don't know if Honors is available.

We also have a few other levels in grades 5-8, so even if a child is not in the gifted program he could be the "advanced" level, which still can get him in Honors LA as a high school freshman, along with the gifted students.

There are parents who practically homeschool on top of overseeing homework to have their children consistently ahead of their peers, in addition to preparing for the CogAt; sometimes it gets the child into the gifted class, sometimes not. I find it curious, because our school district in general is outstanding and challenging.

I like that our program isn't based just on test scores. Especially for the 8th-grade trig: these are the kids who aren't simply good at math, they LOVE math. Some kids are offered it, and decline.

Nother Barb said...

Oh, if a student doesn't take Algebra II/Trig, s/he takes Honors Algebra in 8th grade.

Nother Barb said...

Since the website is in really bad English, I definitely would not. And, in any case, our school looks at how a child is at school, not at outside results.

Rachel Knox said...

I work at Creative Learning Press, and we offer a great book on many aspects of the identification process, aptly named Identification: Policies and Procedures for Identifying students for Gifted and Talented Services , edited by Dr. Scott Hunsaker. As a professional and as parent, it gave me real hope that there are folks that think beyond test scores.

My son was first rejected from his school's enrichment program because his short form IQ score was below the cut-off. His third grade teacher argued that he should be reassessed and that he should receive a full work-up: full IQ test (not just the short form), plus teacher and parent assessments. His full IQ test showed wide discrepancies that resulted in a lower composite score, but, when you broke it down, showed he was off the chart in some areas and weak in some other areas. These scores--the whole gamut of them--plus the teacher and parent information then informed the IEP he has received. I believe that's how identification should work. You should be identifying kids for particular services, for what they need. The tests should not be given to identify a cut-off and kids who fall above and below but as diagnostic tools, helping to find where kids excel and where they may not. Programs, then, should respond to these needs.

Anonymous said...

Regardinf the first Nother Barb entry above, your district seems to be very up to date and evolved on the gifted issue. How can other American public school districts catch up?

Nother Barb said...

Anonymous, we are up to date in some areas but not in others. The official line is "you can't identify gifted till 3rd grade", though the teachers know better; and there is no programming for kids gifted in science or the arts.

How to catch up? Ya got me there. This was in place when we moved here, with modifications for good and bad and back along the way. It seems that you need one amazing gifted coordinator who works well with teachers and administrators to build a good identification system. And, like Rachel Knox's experience, the teachers are a great resource. Ask them to speak for your child with you. Maybe get a few parents and teachers of children who you think or know are talented and develop a working relationship with your district gifted coordinator. Maybe sponsor the coordinator's or a teacher's attendance at a gifted ed conference (even if they're already planning to go), especially if there's a session on multiple-aspect identification; it builds goodwill. Sponsor a speaker from the NAGC or your state chapter to present about it at a teachers' meeting or to the school board. It might lead to working something out with the district. Get on your school board or go to the meetings, preferably with a teacher or administrator, and speak up; if they don't know what's going on, they won't address it. Stress the things that don't cost money. Our state allocates $0 for gifted ed. And I have to think that asking a teacher's opinion about a child is cheaper than giving a test. Stress that this kind of identification is "state-of-the-art"; schools like to be on top of things. It will probably take a few years to get something going. And it's only the parents of gifted students who will get the ball rolling.

Rachel, I really like your last sentence, "Programs, then, should respond to these needs." Maybe then we wouldn't have kids stressing out over the exams; they'd simply get what they need. Anonymous, maybe you could find a copy of Creative Learning Press's book and share it with your district gifted coordinator.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if there have been any cases in the United States of any families standing up against discrimination for trying to explain to the schools about the high IQ person, maybe through the ACLU even? Is this a known, protected group of people? Thanks for any thoughts.

Rachel Knox said...

There is a Chapter in the Identification book I mentioned in my last post that reviews several cases in which families engaged schools in due process hearings for not allowing students into gifted programs. Some of these students, I believe, were twice exceptional and tried to use the Individuals with Disabilities Act as part of their arguments (in order to get a Fair and Appropriate Education). You might also check with NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) to see if they have records on court cases.

Niki said...

Hi, I am a mother of a 3 year old gifted toddler...I haven't found too much info on working with a young gifted child. We have her working with a play therapist, but I would love some support from others in our same situation. Here is my blog, if you could pass it along or share it, that would be awesome!


Anonymous said...

Our district has a 100% pull-out gifted program which requires 99th percentile scores on the CogAT and ITBS (2 grade levels above). Kids scoring in the 97th-99th range can petition for consideration by providing teacher observations, a portfolio of work, etc.

In my mind, there can't be a huge difference between kids who score at the 95th or 99th percentile. My son has been in the system for several years now and by all accounts needs more challenging work. But he may not score in the 99th percentile. Isn't a large part of giftedness creativity, an ability to question, strong curiosity and persistence? I'm afraid the test scores won't reflect that.

I would be thrilled if he got into the program, because he really needs to be challenged. He is bored out of his mind in his regular classes, and this gifted program is his one shot to get that kind of learning. Unfortunately, the cut off is just so rigid. And it's all - LA and math - or nothing. English is not my son's first language, so while advanced he is not as advanced in English as he is in math. But there is no opportunity for him to take an advanced math class.

I wasn't sure whether to prepare him or not for the upcoming tests. But he told me he really wants to go for it. So this week I had him do a practice Naglieri test (the first step he has to take to be eligible to test for the gifted program). Like a lot of bright kids he's also a day dreamer. He loves logic puzzles and I wasn't too worried about the content, but I did feel that it would help for him to know how to behave with a standardized test -- understand what it means to try and pace himself to finish in 30 minutes, how to transfer answers appropriately to a bubble sheet. He is just 8 and has never taken a standardized test before. So in that sense I think it is smart to do a little preparation so he doesn't walk in cold and panicked.

Nother Barb said...

This is where teacher input is critical. If "by all accounts" you mean that your son's teachers agree that he needs a more challenging environment, then by all means ask them to provide their input. Regardless of how your son scores on the tests (and I think asking 8-year-olds to fill in bubbles for a test that matters for their schooling is nuts, some still are developing that fine motor skill), his teachers' observations should be considered. And for a child whose first language is not English, or for a child who uses a different language at home, and gifted to boot, bubble-tests can be difficult. Kids who think in a different box, culturally or creatively, might see a different answer that isn't A, B, C, or D.

Anonymous said...

There are rules for IQ test adminsitration. For example, there are limits as to who may administer IQ tests.

Additionally there are rules as to the frequency and interval for taking any particular IQ test. For example, some may only be taken once in a lifetime.

The proliferation of IQ test preps violates the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law. It is an unethical practice.

IQ tests are intended to measure native intelligence. This is very different from prepping for an achievement test such as the SAT.

That being said, it is very good for gifted programs to use multiple identification measures.

Anonymous said...

WSJ Online article announces new gifted program admissions test for New York gifted programs: NNAT test is said to be less vulnerable to test preps.

Anonymous said...

Here is another article on the NNAT

I guess New York had 1600 kids earn the top score on the GT admission test for 300 open spots