Young Girl “Flunks Out” of Gifted/Talented Program, Succeeds Anyway

Within a year or two of my middle childhood epic failure experience.

This is the post where I  tell you how I got kicked out of my elementary school’s gifted and talented program.

In a nutshell, one year I qualified for it based upon test scores. The next year, I did not.

Math. It brought me down, y’all. I struggled to master fractions with the other gifted kids. At the end of the year,  rather than being ahead of my classmates, I was at grade level–advanced, still, but grade level.

Oh, the horror!

A letter was sent home telling me that I would no longer be pulled out of class once a week for supplemental learning in a shack structure up the road from our elementary school.

For a fourth-grade girl, this might have been a soul-crushing experience. Notably this is a tender age for girls, a moment when they may begin to “hide” their intelligence. Fortunately for me, both of my parents placed little value on testing. Instead–and I remember this vividly–they pointed out all the ways that I was unique and encouraged me to chart my own educational path. They reminded me that I loved to write and was still reading several grade levels ahead of my peers. I excelled in an after-school theatre program. I was imaginative. (I was eccentric, still am, but they didn’t so much play that up back then.) Rather than allowing me to wallow in disappointment, they encouraged me to set my cap for creative, out-of-school pursuits. And college.

Today I have not one but two degrees to my credit. I worked for awhile advising college students at a top-tier research university and then I made the leap to write as a profession. Most importantly, I’ve learned that learning continues throughout one’s life and that I still have so much more wonderful stuff to discover. In other words, I have no regrets.

Thanks, Mom & Dad!

In hindsight and thanks to a whole lotta research, I understand that today’s educators approach gifted kids differently. For one thing, they understand asynchronous development is as much a marker of giftedness as a brilliant vocabulary or accelerated math skills. Looking back, that’s what I experienced in fourth grade: a spurt of asynchronisity.

Parents, too, have new methods and mechanisms for providing gifted learners with optimal educational experiences. One of those approaches is homeschooling. Why is this approach attractive, you wonder, especially at a time when gifted/talented education has improved? For starters, not every school is great at serving this specific population. There are woeful disparities between schools with top-notch equipment and teachers. Moreover, not all gifted learners are the same–which means cookie-cutter pedagogy can fail. Note that although we came to homeschooling at our house primarily because of a peanut allergy, intensive scrutiny study of modern approaches to gifted education have me feeling even more certain that we’re on the right path for our family.

If perchance you have a gifted child and are contemplating home-based education, then I’d like to wrap-up this post by encouraging you to get a copy of Making the Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child. This extraordinarily informative and concise book by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mike Gustavson will hit the high points of what you need to know. Definitions, perspectives, resources… it’s packed with stuff. And It’ll save you hours of research and expedite your ultimate decision–whatever that may be. I’d also recommend the non-profit Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (founded by Goodwin, aka @GiftedHF on Twitter), especially this page on their website.

Oh, wait… I can’t help myself… Mom & Dad: Thanks again for doing the right thing when I got the boot.

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  1. In 6th grade I was in “enriched” Language Arts. The teacher was married to the idea of this “Daily Oral Language” which consisted of copying a series of incorrect sentences from the overhead and then making corrections. I, being the smart aleck 6th grader that I was, believed that writing them incorrectly would reinforce bad habits, why couldn’t I just look at them, make the corrections as I went along and write them correctly? So that’s what I did. Well, this teacher LOOOOVED those stinkin’ DOLs and made it a large part of our daily grades and as a result, I made horrible grades. No matter how many times my mother met with her, I was told how to do the DOL, etc, I dug my heels in and did it my way. As a result, at the end of the year, the teacher recommended that they put me in “regular” 7th grade Language Arts. Luckily my mother understood that I would be horribly bored and would make even worse grades and fought to get me into the “enriched” Language Arts class. The 7th grade teacher was amazing and I wound up succeeding.

    I actually wound up minoring in English and getting certified to teach English…if only my 6th grade Language Arts teacher could see me now.

    • Wow, what a PITA experience. I was always too timid to push back against “the norm,” but I’d do that kind of thing today. Totally. I must have found my inner smart alec along the way.

      My 7th grade teacher was awesome, too. And I’ve been meaning to write about the fabulous 3rd grade teacher that I had.

      Hmm…. I wonder, Tara, if you ever peeked out on diagramming sentences? I just couldn’t understand how people could ever get those “wrong”.

  2. Ah, I floated in and out of the gifted program too – that pesky math score kept me out during the years that they insisted you qualify on all subjects. In third grade we moved, and I was so far advanced of the kids in my class in reading (I’d completed the reading curriculum they were studying the previous year I think) that they started sending me to another class for reading class. Until the teacher decided that it was disruptive and i had to re-do the curriculum again. I got punished for reading too fast, when I was in fact a fast reader already who was just skimming stories I’d already read. My favorite moment was in high school in honors/advanced english – I think 10th grade. Our teacher taught to the SAT as much as possible. I’m not an ordered thinker and remember getting kicked out of class repeatedly for things like not stapling my paper at the correct 45 degree angle. In 1th grade I made a very high score on the SAT and took it by to show her – she paused, and then said “I never really thought you were intelligent. Hmmm.” I guess I’m not sure if i’ll ever have kids but I think that it’s important to have other options if your kid doesn’t fit into the curriculum – I developed a lot of bad habits b/c I was always so bored in some subjects, and in others I needed help I didn’t get b/c they thought I should be able to keep up. (math).

    • 45 degree angle? That’s nuts. And who says things like that to a young adult?

      Options. Yes, options are a good thing.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience and POV.

    • Forgive me: “I never really thought you were intelligent”?!?!!

      Who says that to a child?! I just want to fly back in time and hit her with a rolled up newspaper. Repeatedly.

    • I should have mentioned, Neven, that the gifted group’s acronym was “STARS.” My dad told me that he didn’t need that title to know that I was *his* star.

      I told Mom about this post and she said, “Oh, I may have kept calm in front of you but I was burning inside.” She was grateful to hear that I appreciated her measured response. Always good to get positive feedback, right? Even 30 years on.

  3. I’ve not heard of that book, but will add it to my list! I took the GATE test in 1st grade, and missed passing it by two points becuase my glasses had broken that morning. They wouldn’t let me retest. But, a few years later, I was pulled out of my regular class and put into a new “accelerated” class for kids that were considered not just gifted, but *really* gifted (whatever that means…). I flunked out of it…not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I didn’t understand certain implied meanings behind assignment instructions, and I was way too shy to ever ask. There were assignments like, “Write the dictionary definitions of these ten words…” I would write the ENTIRE definition for each. The teacher only actually wanted the FIRST definition. Apparently everyone understood this but me…even though the teacher didn’t say that! Things like that kept happening over and over, and eventually I was far behind because I was doing so much *extra* work without even knowing it (I was following the WRITTEN instructions, but misunderstanding the IMPLIED instructions). So, I got kicked out…even though my work was “far superior.” What?!?! My work is far superior, and I’m kicked out??? Yep…

    My son qualified for a GATE program when he was tested in first grade as well (I didn’t start homeschooling him until halfway through 4th). Unfortunately, the GATE programs in our district were a complete joke. They did NOT understand asynchronous kids at all, and the ideas of enrichment were appalling. Then, all of a sudden, I was nominated to be the parent leader/organizer for my son’s school’s program. I thought, “Wow! I can make a difference here! Let’s turn this program into something dynamic!” Uh, no…the principal HATED every idea, and put up so many roadblocks that I’m pretty sure he only offered the program at his school because he was required to do so…he was not a supporter, and thus the program never changed. My understanding is that it became worse after we left the school.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Malea. What troubles me most that your teacher FAILED to notice that you were a literalist and didn’t modify instructions for you. That’s not asking a whole lot–to ensure everyone is on the same page re: instructions. I’m pretty sure that “gifted” doesn’t include “mind-reading” as a skills set.

      • Exactly. 🙂 I have to say that my son’s last public school experience did include wonderful teachers that saw his needs and made attempts to modify what they did for him, asked of him, etc. They were wonderful, and if the entire public education system ran they way they ran their classrooms, we might have continued with public education instead of homeschooling. Thankfully, they saw his needs, and one of them actually asked if I’d ever considered homeschooling. He saw how much more my son needed/wanted in certain areas, and the teacher knew that the school system would never be able to accommodate my son’s real needs.

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