13 marzo, 2011

Talented or not, assessment comes

California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) 2006 math results catapulted my fourth-grade son, Misael, aka Witzalberto Delacroix, to a different dimension, letting others know what I already knew, that Misael, Witzalbertie, was a gifted kid.
Furthermore, Johns Hopkins University, through its Center for Talented Youth, invited Witzalberto for two consecutive summers, with a full scholarship to participate in their summer programs Inventions and Engineering. That was, definitely, a life changing experience for my son. But most of all, my son gained enough confidence so as to be considered, by his teachers, classmates, and siblings, as a “glorious” talented child.
Two years later, we came back to Mexico, and my official math whiz got lost in the maze of a different educational system and sank in the deep waters of anonymity. No more distinctions or diplomas for him. The Mexican assessment system considered Misael, my once genius boy, to be nothing but average.
Why did this happen? Here’s a list of possible answers.
a) American food and water make smarter kids.
b) American standardized tests are easier.
c) Mexicans are trying to “raise the bar”.
d) Standardized tests suck.
e) All of the above.

Jokes aside, the truth is that, in Mexico, to be considered talented, you have to excel in every subject, not only math or language. You have to be an almighty-talented kid and, with that the case, there’s not a specific program for them.
But, beyond programs and tests. What does it mean to be talented? What does it mean to you? To be good at something? And, for that matter, aren’t we all talented?
Misael’s math skills were valued by the system for obvious economic reasons. But, what about other skills? What about the ability to feel for others, to care, or to assist; the ability to make others happy? How about the ability to listen, or share; to work together, or to connect? Those are very important skills which no one assesses. Educational systems don’t acknowledge them.
I knew Misael was talented before the STAR scores came up, as I know that my other two sons are, as I know every child in the world is. The problem is that their “talent” is not valued nor acknowledged by their educational systems. For example, I value a sense of humor, as I need laughter in my life as I need air, and there’s not a single standardized test in the world that assesses that aspect, despite Jerry Seinfeld’s success, among others.
Bottom line. Is assessment an indispensable part of the curriculum? Do we really need assessment? And if we do, how should we do it?

4 comentarios:

  1. Verónica,
    I do not know the answer. I only have a question. Once upon a time a little boy went to school, and his teacher was not a nice guy. That was the reason the boy had to go to a "lower" school (in his country children of 12 years go to other schools with different levels). In that time no Standardized Testing and Reporting. The teacher choose the "lower" school for the boy. Maybe a Standardized Testing and Reporting would have been better for this boy?

  2. Hello Veronica,
    During my early years of teaching it was a very small minority of students who were identified as being ‘gifted’. They performed academically at a level way above their peers and were frequently accelerated by one or more classes.
    These days the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ are both far more liberally applied. I am employed in a private school in Australia and while there are a number of standardised tests which are routinely used to assess students, our school administers what I would call a basic observational study which does not require the services of a qualified professional e.g psychologist which would be at substantial cost to the parents.
    My cynical view is that the system I am employed by is endeavouring to compete with Dept. of Education schools who provide Opportunity Classes in specified schools within different districts for targeted students. In this way it can be seen by parents to be providing equal opportunities for all. It is to each school’s advantage to attract intelligent enrolments in order to raise the school’s performance
    The children identified in our school work on thinking skills contracts with a teacher who is intriguingly described as ‘The Gifted and Talented Teacher’ (no standardised testing for her !). We currently have about 6 children per grade who have thus been identified. Now this means that in our school of approx. 200 students, 36 have been identified to parents and peers as being ‘gifted or talented’ – a highly unrealistic ratio. The sad part about it for me is that when parents receive a note saying that their child has been selected for the program they focus on the word 'gifted', and then have an unrealistic inflated view of the capabilities of their child and when the child fails to produce work indicative of this false grade in the future, both child and parent have difficulties coping with the reality. It would make much more sense to me if they were to be told that their child appeared to have a talent for Maths/Langage/Science.

    I am familiar with all of these students as I have worked with them for years as the Teacher Librarian and none of our students as far as I’m concerned qualify as being ‘gifted’ or would function well if they were accelerated to a higher grade. Therefore I definitely regard it as political grading. Standardised tests also have gaps because nobody appears to be able to design one which is capable of ‘grading’ creativity, visual or performing arts or leadership. Current I.Q tests have a Maths bias and the score which equates with giftedness is said to be only ‘an indication of a child's potential for high achievement’.
    From the literature I’ve read on the subject there is a distinction drawn between being ‘gifted’ and being ‘talented’, however it very much depends on sources as to what those distinctions are. Generally gifted carries an intellectual non specific discipline tag while talented may be in one particular field of expertise. Therefore a talented Child A may function at a very high level mathematically compared with his peers, yet be incapable of functioning at this same level in e.g Language or Science, while gifted Child B may excel in all areas and qualify for acceleration. Perhaps it is this blurring between terminology which has caused the confusion with your little one. I’m sure the assessment debate will never be resolved because schools are always held accountable.
    Enjoy your contributions

  3. Hi Jaap,
    I'm sorry to hear that story.
    We need to find better ways to "assess", more oriented to praising instead of demeaning.

    Kind regards,

  4. Hi, Susan,
    Thank you so much for your interesting post, and for sharing with us your ideas and experience.
    I used "talented" and "gifted" indistinctly, but now that you point out the difference, I can see that Johns Hopkins' CTY uses "talented", whereas schools use "gifted". However, as you mention, nor talented nor gifted means "perfect"; everybody -even gifted or talented kids- is learning. My son is great at Math and Science, but he struggles with Language Arts.

    Thank you, Susan :o)

    Best regards,


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