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Grade Expectations: Gifted & Talented Education Fails By Focusing On Test Scores

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gifted and talented kidsGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

The fight to have your hard-working and intelligent children labeled as “Gifted & Talented” continues to get more intense. Testing companies are continually updating their scoring practices and intelligence indicators, mostly because parents are prepping their young children for the tests ahead of time. Entire industries have sprung up around test prep, for everything from kindergarten entrance exams to state proficiency tests to the traditional college SAT and ACT. We’re all prepping and testing and reviewing all the time. And for what?

Every parent wants to hear that their children are gifted. We want to believe that our special little snowflakes will grow to succeed at life. Being labeled as “advanced” or “gifted” feels like the first step in the right direction. But as plenty of extraordinarily intelligent people have mentioned, a high IQ is not a guarantee of prosperity. And that super special label isn’t even beneficial for all children.

This week, a professor of education at Harvard wrote in to the New York Time‘s editorial board reminding them that there are many indications of future success that have nothing to do with standardized tests. Howard Gardner says,

If we desired people who were likely to make creative advances, we would look for youngsters — be they 4 or 14 — who have a passionate interest that they pursue without a lot of prodding. If we desired people who would help build a more civil and more generous society, we would look for 10- or 12-year-olds who have found a need in their school or community and have taken steps to help meet that need.

In the unlikely event that these skills could be coached, at least we would end up with adults who could not simply ace the next standardized test.

Gardner was explaining that we test for what we hope to find. We test for “giftedness” as it relates to memorization and preparedness because we want people who are about to prepare for a test and then do a good job regurgitating that knowledge. But what if we want kids who can do more than take tests?

Last year, a good friend and I who attended a gifted & talented boarding school in high school looked at the ways that our “advanced” education system fails students. And I couldn’t help but be reminded of my good friend when I read Gardner’s mention that if we want people who will contribute to their field, we need self-starters, not test-takers. We need kids who find their own topic of interest and then learn about it, not students who were pushed into test prep by their parents at age three.

So what’s the harm of our current system? Well, it teaches children that getting the right answer over and over again is more important than exploring their interests or experimenting. Early on, we tell kids to simply produce the right answer over and over again instead of asking them to challenge their beliefs or explore new options.

The quest to be get your child labeled “gifted” could be stifling their future creativity from the very beginning. And it could make it a lot harder for them when they move outside of the world of academia, where problem solving is so much more important than memorization and regurgitation.

There are a lot of really amazing, talented teachers in the gifted & talented field. It is possible to have an amazing experience taking G&T classes or attending a G&T school. But if we really want this industry to produce the best and brightest young minds of the future, it’s going to need to switch its focus. It needs to inspire kids instead of training them to perform. And parents will have to be the ones demanding these changes if we ever hope to see them materialize.

(Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)