Thursday, February 17, 2011

Very profound

I was first going to write this blog back in January. A news article in the local paper got me all riled up and I was going to write right away! Then I took a little time off to rest my arms from a bad desk set up and too many days in a row writing, then a book was released that made me think about ways it might tie in to this blog, then I started writing about other things, blog and otherwise and now I am finally getting back to this train of thought.

I wrote a few years ago about my feelings on "Fair" and this sort of ties back to that one. In fact I mentioned the changes to C's high school that were made to make it more "fair" to everyone. This is about a group of parents that want to see the same sort of changes made to the middle school he went to as well.

Most of you know that C is very smart. The definition is profoundly gifted. He scored in the top 99% of both reading and math standardized testing in school. In the 6th grade he took the SATs for a Johns Hopkins study and scored higher than 90% of graduating seniors that year. He is smart in a way that is hard to comprehend at times. Now any parent of a child that is an outlier on either end of the spectrum will tell you that the public school system is not set up to deal with kids like theirs. And really they can't be. The resources are stretched too thin. So parents of kids with special needs (and being extraordinarily intelligent is a special need just like being mentally handicapped is) have to find ways of dealing with their child's special needs outside of the school system.

Sure there are TAG programs in the school and teachers will try to find "enrichment exercises" for bright kids who are bored in class but what this often boils down to is extra worksheets. So more homework covering concepts they got the first time through in class, or more likely when they read ahead in their books waiting for everyone else to catch up. When C was in middle school we reached a head with the frustration levels. Seeing that he was going to be going back and forth between the high school and the middle school within a year to try and get classes that were keeping pace with him we looked for alternative programs. Portland has a school called ACCESS and they will take a certain number of students outside of their district. Criteria to get in are test scores (99% in either reading or math), filling out a questionnaire and teacher recommendations. So we got C a spot in this program starting his 7th grade year.

Then Beaverton finally caught up to Portland, and passed it really. They opened Summa. To qualify for admittance in Summa you must score in the 99% for both reading and math. They started C's 7th grade year and now have full middle schools (6-8) in two locations. It's a wonderful program. Fast paced, challenging, filled with only students who score the same high percentages. It was a wonderful help. The year it opened it was also a huge controversy. Parents whose kids missed the cut off by a percentage or two were not happy. I can understand this. To a point. I know the frustration of taking your kid to extra classes and finding activities to keep them interested and taking on their education in a way that feels like you put them in school for 6 hours a day for their amusement but their education is all on you.

But there is a big difference between a student who scores in the 97% on one test and one who scores in the 99% on both. The pace at which these kids were given information was faster than many college courses. The ideas they were exposed to, the freedom they were given in "figuring it out" in finding the next direction that they wanted to take in a science experiment for instance, was amazing. I have likened it to owning a Ferrari and for years being restricted to driving on a crowded freeway where even though you COULD go much faster everyone around you can't so you are stuck and then all of a sudden the road opens up and everyone around you is in a Ferrari and you get to race open road.

So back to January. It seems as though a group of parents have gotten together to hire an expert on gifted students to try and change Beaverton's policy. The reasoning is that there are many different types of gifted and the program should include all of the TAG students so everyone gets to participate. Because the way it's set up now just isn't fair. This would mean expanding the program from the 326 profoundly gifted students it has right now to 1400 smart kids of varying degrees. Then they want to group those students by ability in the program. Now, I am not sure if the schools in your area do this, but this is the standard way most schools work already. The first week or two of school is placement tests and then you are put in groups Red, Blue, Yellow based on your scores. The same system that wasn't working for these profoundly gifted kids in the first place. And then what happens if you do get your way and your kid is in the slow group all of a sudden? After years of being in TAG, being in the most advanced group all of a sudden in Summa they are the slow one? How do you think that is going to work out?

One of the wonderful things about how Summa works is that the tests were done ahead of time. To get in to Summa you had to place at a certain level so no further dividing is necessary. They start first day learning at a rapid pace. And they all know that they are all profoundly gifted. There is no stigma for being smart or for not being as smart. You wouldn't be there if you didn't meet the rigorous admittance criteria. Still, I get it, everyone wants the best for their child, but this isn't for your child. I am sorry, but they didn't test high enough. It sucks. It's worse to miss something by a small percentage than a large one. I am sorry that you will still have to handle the enrichment and extra learning on your own, but this is not the way to fix it.

One of the quotes in the article had me shaking my head, "We don't want to change the program, we want to expand the number of people who participate in it." Excuse me? Isn't that changing the program? That to me is like saying, I love everything about you except your personality. We don't want to change the program, we just want to lower the requirements for getting in, increase the number of students in the program and then divide the groups by levels again instead of group learning. But other than changes.

This ends the rant blog. Tomorrow I will write the other part of it that I can't figure out how to mesh nicely with this one. Just for a sneak preview hint..."Rawr!"

See if you can figure that one out!

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