Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

The other day the school sent home a form we had to fill out for both kids as part of the Second Grade ‎MCPS “Gifted and Talented” Screening process. It was an odd collection of questions, and you had to ‎rate your child based on how often you had observed a particular behavior or trait (i.e. gets very ‎focused on one particular activity – frequently, often, never, etc.). It seemed hard to believe that this ‎form had much to do with anything so I stuck it in the mail basket of doom for a while and tried to ‎ignore it, but ultimately forced myself to fill it out the day before the deadline. Ranking your kids on ‎anything is NOT fun, but try ranking twins side by side on a bizarre set of questions and you’ll get some ‎real mother-guilt heartburn. I ended up filling it out at midnight, in a locked bathroom, while ‎obsessively checking that the kids were asleep. I know, I need some professional help.‎

Then there is the label for the program that is the reason for the form in the first place – “Gifted and ‎Talented.” Seriously, who came up with that one? I had to laugh out loud because it reflects a real ‎schizophrenia within the school system, and maybe educators in general, as to how and/or when kids ‎should be “labeled” and what to label them. On the one hand, MCPS conducts this stealth math (and ‎sometimes reading) tracking system, beginning as early as Kindergarten, where they start grouping ‎the kids by their supposed ability – first within the classroom and then ultimately by reshuffling the ‎kids for those particular subjects. But they don’t really want the parents to know that they are doing ‎this, and they REALLY don’t want the kids to figure it out. In fact, we were expressly instructed by the ‎teachers NOT to discuss it. So if your kid asks you why they go to “so and so” for math, and their friend ‎doesn’t (or vice-versa), you end up doing this whole dance and shuffle while attempting to avoid the ‎very question your kid is asking you. ‎

But come the end of second grade, and suddenly there is this test, and if your kid aces this test then ‎they are TA DAH, Gifted and Talented, Capital G, Capital T. And, of course, this is Montgomery County ‎so we all secretly or not so secretly think our kids are G&T, right?, and heaven forbid the test proves us ‎wrong. (Although of course, there is the fallback, well my kid is not a good test-taker). And what is ‎the grand prize for beings so fahbulous? Why, you get to go to a “special” school with all the other G&T ‎kids where you will be more “challenged” and you don’t have to keep slumming with the “regular” ‎kids. ‎

But how do you reconcile the G&T moniker with the bunches of studies that show that praising an ‎innate character -- such as smartness or goodness – in a kid, rather than effort, is self-defeating? ‎These studies concluded that children who are constantly praised as being “smart,” or I would imagine, ‎‎“gifted and talented,” have less self-esteem and, in fact, start to be afraid to take risks for fear that it ‎will prove that they are not as smart as everyone else thinks they are. Whereas encouraging hard ‎work and effort prompts more of the same. (Here is a link to a good article summarizing these studies = http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/).

The kids took the TerraNova standardized test a week or 2 ago. The first day, as I was ushering them ‎out the door and giving a kiss goodbye, I encouraged them to have fun and to "do your best." I ‎decided I didn't like that so the next day, I bid them goodbye with a "try your hardest" and both kids ‎responded much better to that, coming home excited to report how the test had gone. Words carry a ‎lot of power, especially coming from parents.‎

So for now at least, phrases that are banned in our house include "you are so smart" or "you are a ‎good kid." Phrases that are encouraged in our house - you worked really hard on that; you gave that ‎your best effort and you got to the right answer. But I also think that no matter how hard I try to ‎navigate a good path on one thing, I am just going to screw something else up with my kids. It is ‎always easy to blame parents for everything, right? Wait, never mind, don’t answer that. ‎

No comments:

Post a Comment