Everyone’s weighed in on it, I may as well too. I’m talking about “The Junior Meritocracy,” this month’s New York Magazine cover story. The subhead is a tip-off to where the article is going: “Should a child’s fate be sealed by an exam he takes at the age of 4? Why kindergarten-admission tests are worthless, at best.“
Things to keep in mind when reading/my take:
– The article is about that unique microcosm of craziness, New York City school admissions. You can get a taste in one of my previous posts, on the documentary “Getting In.”
– This is generally NOT the situation for public schools in Montgomery County. (Private school in DC, from what I gather, different matter–the article actually quotes a post from DCUrbanMoms in which a mom is seeking test prep materials. Trust me, the DCUM private school forum is in-tense.) Here, GT testing happens at the end of second grade, when kids are (assuming they haven’t been red-shirted) 7-8 years old , as recommended in the article.** They take the Raven test, not even mentioned in the article, which comes with its own limitations. And there are, as the experts in the article recommend, multiple inputs, and multiple opportunities in a child’s school career to access “accelerated and enriched” instruction. If anything, the situation in MoCo is so expansive that that’s what’s worrisome. The 2009 2nd grade screening report shows that 38.7% of MCPS 2nd graders were identified as gifted and talented. 38.7%! Ludicrous.
(** the exception is testing for the Takoma Elementary magnet. Even if a child “passes” they still have to be selected via lottery.)
–Deliberate prepping, at this age, is wrong and people like Suzanne Rheault, “M.I.T. graduate and former Wall Street analyst,” are despicable (“I can understand people getting offended by 4-year-olds getting tutoring for these exams,” says Rheault when we meet in her Soho conference room. “But I’m not the one making them take them.” She charges $500 for her WPPSI prep books.)
– Just because high IQ people don’t all go on to cure cancer, write Academy Award winning screenplays or solve conflicts the Middle East doesn’t mean that we should dismiss IQ tests out of hand.
– “Giftedness is a real thing, no question. But giftedness can be extinguished, and it can be nurtured.” So sayeth, Samuel J. Meisels, assessment expert and president of Chicago’s Erikson Institute, the renowned graduate school in childhood development. And so sayeth me, not-an-expert. At the end of the day, there is no getting around that gifted exists. Author Jennifer Senior writes, ” So what do psychologists and educators think makes the difference between good and exceptional? Opportunity, connections, mentors.” Those are the externals that can benefit any child. And “Perseverance and monomaniacal devotion, or what the psychologist Ellen Winner calls “the rage to master.” Creativity, a willingness to fail.” The internals. The neurons. The raw stuff. Whatever you want to call it. And not every kid has it in equal measure.
Just draw the parallel to athletics. As Laura Vanderkam writes, “If a kid has a growth spurt at age 15, he’s more likely to make the basketball team in high school than if he has a growth spurt at age 18, or just stays pretty short. That may not be entirely fair, since playing a sport can teach great lessons for life and maybe help with college admissions. But we don’t go apoplectic as a society about how unfair this is or, more ridiculously, try to claim that tall people don’t exist.”
– Even if you do away with tests and go to other “measures,” such as “observational assessment” you still need a) teachers/educators who know what they are looking at/for, b) it’s still a “snapshot.” And even the marshmallow test is coachable.