©Barbara Smaller-The New Yorker – Conde Nast Collection
Many public schools begin a Kindergartener’s education by sorting the child into one of two groups, “gifted” and well… “not gifted”. In one of our local schools, this determination is made during a fifteen to twenty minute assessment test given at the end of summer, just before Kindergarten begins.
Little children, who have recently celebrated their fifth birthday, and who have generally been taught not to talk to strangers, are sat down alone with a stranger and asked a series of questions designed to determine if they are gifted. These children are then placed in two separate classes-one for the advanced tract and one for all the rest. They are not evaluated again until the end of their Kindergarten year, at which time, should a child prove to the powers that be that he is “worthy”, he will be admitted to the first grade advanced tract.
A Kindergarten teacher that follows this practice admitted that once a child is excluded from the advanced class it is very difficult to get in, and only becomes harder as the child grows older and the curriculum more complicated. Even public schools that do not practice this whimsical sorting are mandated to give standardized tests to all children during the first weeks of school. Kindergarten teachers, rather than focusing on age appropriate social skills, creativity, and hands on problem solving, are required to meet curriculum standards formerly expected of children at least one year older. While expectations have changed, developmental milestones, emotional needs, and children, have not:
The practice of labeling children is egregious enough, but at such an early age and in such an arbitrary way, it is shockingly unfair. How can educators who have chosen the vocation of guiding young hearts and minds become so misguided themselves as to send a clear message to more than half the student body that they are just “not as smart” as the rest of their peers? Not only “not as smart”, but chosen to be placed in a separate classroom so as not to slow these “super kids” down?
And don’t think that even very young children won’t know. They understand that they are being categorized and, what is worse, believe it: “How could all these grown-ups be wrong about me?” The pressure on teachers to churn out stellar students who “test well” begins at the federal and state levels and trickles down to each school district. Schools that perform well on standardized tests are rewarded with much needed additional funding-a system that encourages teachers to “teach to the test”.
It is not only the children classified “not gifted” that are affected. Labels in any form hurt the growing mind. The documentary “A Class Divided”, still as relevant today as it was over twenty years ago, clearly shows how vulnerable children are to suggestion and how dangerous any kind of labeling can be, no matter if one is deemed superior or inferior.
IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests are designed to assess ephemeral and elusive cognitive abilities. These evaluations have no ability to measure creativity, innovative thinking, leadership, compassion, curiosity, wonder, or social skills. It is commonly agreed by child development experts that intelligent children often “overthink” test questions, realizing that there could be more than one answer. This “outside the box” thinking causes them to become confused when asked to check just one “box”.
Limitation of IQ testing is well known and found to be unreliable, especially at the pre-K level, yet IQ Test Prep is a multi-million dollar business that has grown rapidly to support parent’s fears that their child might be among the ones passed over. Books and test kits designed to prepare children as young as two and a half years old for WISC IV, WPPSI III, WAIS III, and other early IQ assessments are readily available on the internet and range in price from forty to seven hundred dollars. These tests help a child to be evaluated for such things as: short term auditory recall, sequencing ability, and processing speed. All this for children who often still pronounce their “R’s” as “W’s”?
Standardized evaluations practice exclusivity-judging children without regard to background, cultural variations, what a particular child has been exposed to in the home (familiarization), introversion, physical state (tiredness or hunger), what type of learner a child is (many of these tests demand the viewing of photos or drawings – best for a child who is a visual learner, but certainly not suited for tactile, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.) No allowance is made for children who tend to be perfectionists and freeze at the idea of failure, or for the fact that, often, there can simply be a bad chemistry between the subject and test giver. There are innumerable reasons why individuals may not be at their best at a particular time of a particular day. To have children tested for something as important as class placement by these standards is fuzzy science at best.
So parents, be wary. While your young child who longs to be outside running, laughing, exploring, jumping, building, collecting, climbing, pretending (in other words, learning), is being tested for things he cannot yet pronounce: VCI, PRI, WMI, and PSI (verbal comprehension index, perceptual reasoning index, working memory index, and processing speed index) should become irritable, bored, restless, inattentive, resentful, distracted, or day dreamy, there is a chance that the test giver, whose job it is to apply labels as she sees fit, may determine that your child is neither gifted nor not gifted, but instead, a possible qualifier for ADHD treatment.
“The mind grows by self revelation. In play the child ascertains what he can do, discovers his possibilities of will and thought by exerting his power spontaneously. In work he follows a task prescribed for him by another, and doesn’t reveal his own proclivities and inclinations; but another’s. In play he reveals his own original power.”
Friedrich Froebel – founder of the first Kindergarten