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not gifted

Last year my daughter's teacher recommended that we have her assessed for the gifted program. I was hesitant. I brought up two concerns:

Risk: When I was a kid I asked about the gifted program, went through some review then was told that I was not gifted. This message probably made me work harder in life but the self-esteem thing happened, I've written before about how I decided not to go into computer science because I didn't think I'd be able to compete. Engineering seemed like a more level playing field, everybody had to go to college at least, and looking back it was a perfectly great decision but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't based on a little insecurity. A few years ago I was meeting with an executive coach about my role in supervising 60+ engineers and listed one of my weaknesses as just not being all that smart, she looked at me totally sideways with a "are you hearing yourself?! STOP," kind of response.

Benefit: I'm not sure I like gifted programs taking kids out of normal classrooms, as a manager now I need employees who can slow down and help a team along. I'm always having to tell new college grads that I don't care how they took calculus in the 8th grade - we don't certify airplanes based on trust that the designer is smart. You have to write your stuff down, show your work, be in a GROUP of mixed skills and bring everyone along with you. Public school is a great place to learn this lesson: wherever we're going, we have to get there together.

All this explains why I was definitely not pushing the school to assess my kid for the gifted program. But they convinced me that it wasn't much time out, that it would help her, and Josie came to me upset one night because the reading assignments at school were way too simple and boring. She's an odd kid, she totally does her own thing 99% of the time, doesn't care what anyone around her is doing or telling her what to do (sigh). She gets frustrated with herself. Marc and I used to quote eddie izzard a lot: "can't... get the trees... just right... I'M GOING TO KILL EVERYONE!" But she doesn't care what anybody else thinks.

I've been in groups with other moms around and their daughters are coming up to them with play-by-plays about the social scene, who insulted who, how they feel, why they're hurt, what they want to do. Never my kid. Marc and I asked Josie once if other girls at her school were mean and she said nope, it's all good. I was like oh crap, maybe SHE'S the mean girl! But watching her friends all play, she just takes what she wants from the world, her goals overshadow her empathy. She plays fine with the kids and doesn't analyze where she's at in the scene.

Except now that's she's eight, every 3-6 weeks I catch her in some weird mood where she is frustrated with the outside world, and she very emotionally spills a million concerns, usually concern about her school abilities and things she doesn't get. The next day I'll ask her about the same thing or how school was and she shrugs and says it's all fine, and reminds me that for christmas she wants a unicorn light.

Back to the topic at hand. The school called us and said she's not gifted. Dammit you jerks, this is the same crap that happened to me, why assess and label a borderline kid?

I THINK she won't notice or give a crap, I'm just worried about these little rare occasions we have where I find out everything this kid internalizes, like if you don't let it out it just eats forever and it's worse than the kids who are always talking about their feelings. I don't want things to eat at her. I want her to know she's smart.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 5th, 2018 06:40 pm (UTC)
This is a really thoughtful post about a dilemma that's personal to me as well. I was tracked for the "gifted program" in my school, and in that particular case I don't know that I got any real benefit from it. There are pluses and minuses. But from your post, it sounds like you have your priorities right in any case. I think she will benefit most from that.
Dec. 5th, 2018 11:48 pm (UTC)
Some gifted programs are excellent; some are useless. And, of course, some kids -- even among those who are called "gifted" -- do better in a typical classroom. My family's experience with a gifted program was positive.

My son tested into the gifted program in elementary school. It's not just a single "gifted" label. There was a gifted class for English and one for Math, which makes a lot of sense. He was in both, but some kids tested into one or the other. Usually, the pull-out classes started in 4th grade, but he was so off-the-charts in math that he was pulled into the 4th & 5th-grade gifted math class as a kindergartner, and got a lot out of it. But this is a kid who was doing square roots before he was potty-trained.

Kids could also test into a gifted designation for other subjects, but there weren't separate classes for those; basically it just meant that the gifted specialist worked with the teacher to give these students EXTRA WORK at a higher level. So it was not popular with students.

Unfortunately, the gifted program in that format evaporates here when the student reaches middle school. There are no separate gifted classes; there are "honors" classes, but anyone can take them. The quicker kids end up being held back by the ones who need more time, and the teachers have no special training in teaching gifted students. There is no acknowledgment that gifted students are not necessarily the same as students who are advanced in a subject. They learn differently, just as special-ed kids learn differently and do best with teachers who are trained to teach them. The kids who had been identified as gifted were in the same honors classes as everyone else, but were given extra assignments -- again, making them feel like they were being punished.

My son is a high-school junior now. There is no gifted program at the high school, but it's a huge school with an enormous range of offerings. And by this age, students should be old enough to pursue interests on their own. So maybe it really isn't necessary. I do think that being in the gifted classes in elementary school was tremendously helpful for my son. I wish every student at every level could have the stellar, creative, caring teacher who did so much to motivate him then!

I was also in a gifted program in elementary school, and still feel like I learned more in those two years than I did throughout high school.

One problem our local gifted program faced was that well-educated parents, usually white, were more likely to ask to have their kids tested. So there were many more white than Latino and African-American students in the gifted classes, though we are not a majority-white school system. Teachers were also allowed to refer students to be tested, which helped. Then at some point, a new policy said every student would be tested. This helps identify more students who might have slipped through the cracks, but I doubt it goes far enough. The school system has also introduced alternatives such as portfolio reviews, acknowledging that some students just don't test well.

I still think there is a long way to go for most school systems to meet every child at his or her level, instead of assuming a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Unfortunately, schools are under so much pressure to show high scores on standardized tests that they put resources into the low-performing students, instead of into students who can already pass the standardized tests.

In particular, I would like to see our local middle schools here adopting a real gifted program. That doesn't have to mean pull-out classes; it seems that there must be some alternatives that involve challenging students in different ways, and not just giving them extra assignments.
Dec. 6th, 2018 12:44 am (UTC)

I liked reading your comment, just wanted to say thanks for the thought and detail. :) In our school district, the gifted program is literally a separate class. I’m not a huge fan of the way they test into it (just a couple of standardized tests taken over two days, outside of normal school hours), but I like that my kid is in a classroom full of other kids like him and they move at an accelerated rate together on all subjects. His twin sister didn’t test in and honestly I didn’t expect her to. She’s bright but not “gifted” and she’s also a perfectionist with a competitive streak, so performing at the top of the class in a regular classroom suits her a lot better. There’s also a program in middle school but we haven’t made it that far yet so I’m not sure how it works.

Dec. 6th, 2018 02:32 am (UTC)
this is a good response, especially the thought about gifted kids learning differently to begin with... not just needing more work to keep them from being bored.

I do see some benefit though for letting any kid sign up for the advanced/honors classes. Again I think back to my experiences in the corporate world... time is spent getting others to catch up so we're all on the same page. a LOT of time. learning to have patience with a system that's not set up ideally for you is a good skill to learn in this world.
Dec. 6th, 2018 01:14 pm (UTC)
I think there's a balance to strike between developing that patience and exuberantly chasing your potential, and not everyone should be too patient. Designing airplanes is just what you say: methodical, traceable, team-oriented. Other fields of endeavor have more room for prima donnaism, although I will grant that there can be too much of that in nearly any field--even opera.

Expecting kids to be as patient as middle-aged adults is unreasonable, I think. Mama let 'em play, and if a kid needs the larger atmosphere of a gifted class to get introduced to the joy of exercising their brain more fully, then I think we should make some allowance for that.
Dec. 6th, 2018 06:01 am (UTC)
This is a fantastic comment. As a black woman, I can honestly say that the public school teachers didn't want to test me for gifted because they thought I was just being rebellious by not doing work. My mom pushed back on that and I got tested. But really, any teacher worth their salt should've thought to test me but I think they didn't because of my skin color.

@spacefem, FWIW, there are many different ways of assessing "gifted". A lot of it can depend on which IQ test they use. Speaking for myself, I do kinda poorly on one type of test because of how things are asked but do much better on other ones. (I only know this because I have taken like a half dozen because my mom was a school psychologist and would practice new versions on us before the school year started.)

Hopefully the teachers can find a way to keep her engaged!
Dec. 6th, 2018 03:43 am (UTC)
Tristan was in, and then out, of the gifted program in elementary school. When I went to the principal - pretty much ON principle, because we didn't care all that much but we knew he was very smart - he said, "I've got some kids I can barely contain because they're so gifted. They drive their teachers crazy. That's what gifted programs are for." And that totally made sense to me and I was at peace. So, I say your daughter will probably benefit from the mixed-abilities groups and it won't hold her back at all.
Dec. 6th, 2018 03:52 am (UTC)
We just got a thing from school that they're testing all the kids (I think?) but we have to fill out the form and I think it reads a lot more like "how does your kid think about things" almost like an IEP in some ways? So idk I wonder. We'll send it in but right now kiddo's struggling with test anxiety (not sure where that came from?) and a general frustration with test taking. But she knows her stuff. So ugh. I'm kind of hoping that whatever happens she gets to do things different from what she's doing now. :(
Dec. 6th, 2018 04:12 am (UTC)
The way it was explained to me when we had our older one tested is that gifted is different than book smart. Gifted kids see the world differently, make connections differently, learn differently.

The best way I can explain it is in 8th grade, my English teacher gave our class (and this was the class of "smart" kids) a set of 25 Rebus puzzles (the words in a box and you have to figure out the phrase). We had a contest to see who could get the most. Two people in the class got over half right. Everyone thought it would be the two girls who always had the highest grades in every class. But it was me and one of my best friends. Why? Because we could think in a different way and could solve the puzzles.

As for getting the classification, it's only important if you think your child will need special dispensation from the school because of being gifted. In Louisiana they actually classify gifted as a disability, mostly to get more money from the federal government. But sometimes it is hard to be the one who thinks differently, both in school and in the workforce.
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