"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Gifted, Poor, and Invisible

If you can think of a more efficient way to further privilege the privileged than the use of "scientifically-based" evidence that favors the privileged, then I would like to hear about it. The use of standardized tests certainly makes poor gifted children invisible to those who would rather not see them, but the worst part of it all is the crushing of esteem that poor children and parents suffer when they consider their own pitiful test performances to those of economically-privileged children. Add to the economic barrier the language barrier and the pigment barrier, and you have a hurdle that most do not overcome.

That is why this kind of work in San Antonio is so critically important in these late days of the testing hysteria:
This year, Northside kicked off a program aimed at finding gifted students among the roughly 1,500 students who speak 100 languages and dialects besides Spanish. The district allows teachers, parents and community members to nominate children for the gifted and talented program.

Twice this school year, the district hired interpreters to come in on a Saturday to test students in Farsi, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Thai.

Likewise, there have been a number of changes to Edgewood's GT program since Teniente joined the department 21/2 years ago.

One of her first steps: making sure information sheets for parents were correctly translated into Spanish. And now all meetings for parents of gifted or potentially gifted students are conducted in both English and Spanish.

"It will take more time, but it's well worth it," Teniente said. "I want them to understand not just the gist but the whole presentation. Parent involvement is crucial to a child's success."

Last year, Teniente formed a GT bilingual committee of parents, administrators and teachers, and now she's on a quest to find screening tests and materials that are translated not just into Spanish, but the regional Spanish that's spoken in San Antonio.

"Everything is done in baby steps," she said.

She points to Rafael Lara-Alecio at Texas A&M University and Beverly Irby at Sam Houston State University, who have developed a screening instrument geared specifically for Hispanic students.

Slocumb said he advocates a process rather than a test, to level the playing field between poor and more affluent children. The process works like the handicap system in golf: The more impoverished a student is, the more points he or she gets.

"Nowhere in education do we put unequals together and make them compete," he said. "5As don't compete with 3As. It's the same game, why is it not fair?"

Joyce Miller, an education professor at Texas A&M-Commerce, says it's time to trade standardized tests for the power of human observation when it comes to determining who is gifted and talented.

During the lectures she delivers at conferences for gifted and talented educators, her PowerPoint presentation always includes this quote by author Elbert Hubbard: "There is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability."

Sooner or later, we will come to realize (again) the unsustainable racism that the testing folly embodies, but it will not come without an unrelenting fight against those who are willing to sacrifice the opportunity for all to preserve rule by the few.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:02 PM

    It is nice to see a blog talk about this testing madness. My daughter just tested for "gifted and talented" at 10 years old and needed a 97% to "pass"... but she got 95% and becuase of the way it was handled she felt stupid for not making it. How could any kid feel that way at 95%?!