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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The most significant thing that happened this week was that Andy was denied admission to the AISD Gifted and Talented program. This was important to me because I think he's bored in class, and next year is the God !$%^&&!!! TAKS exam. He's the best reader in his class, meaning he will get completely ignored in a regular classroom while the teacher spends all of her time working with the two or three totally helpless kids. At least Mills is a good school, with a really good student body, so the peer pressure works in favor of academics rather than against it.

I have to say after speaking to the counselor, I'm convinced AISD hasn't been sued enough. The admission program in more litigious school districts seems to be based entirely on taking a test. Here, however, there's a whole bunch of subjectivity in the process. I talked to the counselor, and she said that he lost out in two areas: his "academic scale" (I presume this means grades, but PhD's in education don't speak standard English) and, God forbid, his parent nomination wasn't high enough. The parent nomination is the form I filed out. I, HIS MOTHER, cost him admission to the gifted program. Now, after hearing from some friends on this one, I have grave doubts about a program for gifted students that relies at all on parent input. What difference does it make if I'm an idiot? For that matter, and more related to the litigation thing, why does the district care whether or not I'm brilliant, so long as Andy has the mental capacity for the work he'll be expected to do? A friend of mine analyzed this as a test for the parents, as in trying to find out just how much of a monster I'm willing to be to make sure Andy does his work. My mother-in-law, a former elementary school teacher, suggested that this was a way to eliminate gifted students with bad parents, which then makes life just a whole lot easier for the teacher. I agree with both suggestions.

The most disturbing thing about requiring parental application is that it automatically excludes gifted kids from any background below middle class, and quite a few of the middle-middles as well. Think for a minute: how many parents who themselves didn't finish high school, or don't speak English, or work two jobs so that their family can both eat and get vaccinations and antibiotics when necessary are going to complete a two-page form to get their child in a class with more homework? This is a nice way of avoiding the problems of really smart kids in bad schools. Having been a really smart kid in a less-than-stellar school, during the 1970's, heyday of dumbass "reforms" designed to allow us to express our creativity but not necessarily to impart nasty old facts to us, my sympathies are entirely with the kids here. (And yes, that was an extremely long and complicated sentence. $50 fine from the Grammar Police.) There is nothing worse than being a bright kid from a bad school. Within the school, your choices are to be picked on by lackwit bullies for showing an interest in class work, or become a discipline problem and win status with brains by creatively solving the problem of how many ways one can drive a teacher insane. Outside of the school, everyone assumes you're a moron because that's all that school generally produces. No wonder these kids become problems. The average kid stuck there is bad, but losing brilliant kids to boredom and bad habits costs us so much, when saving them costs us so little. In this case, just the price of a test.

The form itself was laughable. I can imagine the average Joe Sixpack father of a bright kid reading it and finding confirmation for every public school horror story every reported on talk radio. A couple of the sample questions will demonstrate:

Does your child use adult words? Yeah, and you should how well he does the hand gestures!!
Is your child interested in adult problems and issues, like political issues or pollution?
(This is my real answer, not the snarky one about how much they liked him at the Davos summit in April.) I am very careful to avoid exposing Andy to very much in the way of adult problems, because I don't believe that a seven-year-old is emotionally prepared to think about thinks like global warming or the Iraq war. He does have a strong interest in learning about the past, as in knights and heroes, and information about his ancestors and their lives. I believe it's more important for him to develop ethics and empathy before he starts applying himself to his duties as a citizen.
There were other questions about his desire to solve problems creatively and some such. How much I longed for a question about his hobbies or pets. Something normal. But no. Apparently if he hasn't rewired the cars to run on eggshells and coffee grounds, he's not GT material.

The rest of the process was more objective. She said his IQ was tested at 110, which is the high end of average, defined as 100 +/- 10 points. Why they can't say 90 - 110 she didn't explain, but he's at the higher end of average. He did much better on the math part of the testing * 114, well withing qualification range * than he did on the verbal part. In fact, he got a perfect score on one component of that, only missing out on the part of the test designed for 5th graders. This rather amazes me, given that Steve and I think mathmetics is a plot by the aliens to distract us so they can invade. Andy and Aaron are products of a devious breeding experiment in verbal ability, but math just wasn't in there. More to the point, Andy makes bad grades in math, "adequate," instead of the "skilled" and "advanced" in all his other subjects. This is either proof that the school got the wrong set of test scores, or further evidence that he belongs in the gifted program because he's so bored in regular class.

He didn't do so well on the "traits, applications and behaviors" and on the portfolio of class work. Personally, I think this is too subjective for them to consider, since boredom, dislike of classmates, or other emotional traits can obscure the results. While I'm thinking about it, this part of the test is vulnerable to a Title VII challenge. I don't have a hard time believing that, say, black or Hispanic boys would never pass it. Think about this for a minute. You're a teacher, with a budding Will Smith in your class, who is clearly gifted but also a major pain in the butt. How easy it will be to call the kid "unmotivated" and keep him in boring regular classes, reserving the coveted gifted program for dimmer but harder working kids. Now, I have no problem with rewarding hard work, but not by confusing it with better mental wiring. Give that kid an accelerated class, but put Will in the gifted progam where he can learn to like school. Andy lost out because he isn't very good at "applying himself." Gee, thaaaat's a shock. A seven or eight year old boy doesn't like to work hard and only does what he needs to get by. Never occured to them that at least one solution is to give him MORE stuff that he needs to get by on.

Finally, they consider creativity and memory. Andy did really well on memory, which is no surprise, but not so well on creativity. I don't know how you make a kid more creative, or for that matter how you could tell such a thing in one morning's test, but I'm not going to hire consultants to improve this. For that matter, I think they're wrong, but, again, how is it possible to argue against something so fluid?

I am generally very happy with AISD, and it really surprised me that they came up with a policy this lame. Andy has had good teachers at Mills, who have allowed him to read books more advanced than his grade level, and have put him in faster reading groups and other more enriched areas. The problem is that there's only so much the regular teacher can do. I'm now going to try and get him in something called a "cluster class," which is somewhat accelerated beyond the regular material, and with more emphasis on one or two subject areas. I'll report on my success later.

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