**Note: this article has been modified after a message from Keith Nerby, the principal of the Sun Prairie High School. It was the PRIOR principal we had an issue with, and I had metioned that to Mr Nerby when we had a meeting about Sarah in May of this year. I am sorry if this blew back onto him as he is not the person I had the unfortunate phone conversation with several years ago.
Your precious peanut is brilliant, thinks every parent ever. The reality? Less than 5% of them actually end up in a TAG or ALP program at their school. Even then, there is a series of problems that arise, and many variables occur. That leads to two different philosophies of parenting. How can you best help your talented and gifted child?
My Talented and Gifted Child Story
Miss Sarah was the kid who could read Moby Dick entering kindergarten and understand it. This didn’t surprise us as she also knew her states and capitols, could speak basic phrases in both French and Spanish, had half the periodic table of elements memorized, played piano, painted, danced, and was doing third-grade math.
While the school district usually does not test children until second grade, our Kindergarten teacher helped push it through early. She was way above grade level, and the talk was about jumping her a few grades. We said “no” as she was the youngest kinder at her school already so that she would be ridiculously underage in second or third grade.
By third grade, she was at twelfth-grade levels for math, science, and English. We attempted to get her into high school courses, but it was an epic fail. I had great talks with the high school guidance counselor, TAG person, and social worker. The snag came when I talked to the principal at that time, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be an option.
That left me stunned and thinking that maybe the local technical college would be a great solution as they have smaller class sizes than traditional college lectures. Fail. Technical colleges have different regulations to follow as they are tech schools first, colleges second. Students have to be at least sixteen and can only attend classes after regular school hours.
That led us to the University of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin College Online, to be exact. They. Were. Amazing. They arranged private entrance exams for Sarah, were beyond easy to work with, and extremely helpful. The bonus? Sarah was earning real college credit. At the age of nine. To this day, Sarah is the youngest Wisconsin Badger, ever.
Here comes the problem: regular school and blending curriculum. It is hard to think out of the box when the CORE Curriculum is the challenge we all have to workaround. The elementary school was able to blend her college work with her grade-level classes. The middle school kept throwing “CORE CURRICULUM” at us for being the reason why they could not let college-level coursework replace 6th-grade writing or science assignments. As for the upper-middle school that we are currently working with? We shall see, as Sarah has twelve credits next semester.
This led to my General Contractor Philosophy
That means it us up to us parents for Taking Charge of our Children’s Education if you want to help your talented and gifted child. It is not a teacher’s job to educate my child – it is MINE. I should partner with educators to give her the best experience possible. I know I am in the minority on this concept, but our kids in any Advanced Learning Program (ALP) are in the minority too. They need our help! One of the best reads I have ever come across is the Gifted Kids’ Survival Guide. There is a version for kids, teens, and even parents.
What are the Characteristics of a Gifted Child?
When kids are evaluated, there are five different categories that are looked at.
Are the kids creative? Are they ahead in one specific subject? Are they ahead in several different subjects? Do they show leadership skills? Are they involved in any artistic endeavors? When you have a child that excels in all five areas? That is undoubtedly a child who falls into a “Gifted and Talented” scenario. Occasionally TAG kids are identified by the state standardized testing, often scoring at 95% or higher. It can help find those who do not necessarily stand out with their grades and seem bored or disruptive during class.
Multiple criteria are used for the identification of advanced learners: standardized test scores, individualized testing, parent/guardian nominations, teacher nominations, student nominations, and district assessments.
Giftedness is found in students from all socioeconomic and racial groups, and these kids have the right to progress at academically appropriate levels of challenge for them. Most of them have mastered 50% or so of the school’s content before the year has even started.
What is Tag Testing?
Testing for whether or not your peanut is a talented and gifted student can be done in a few ways: inside the school district or outside of it. If you go outside of the district, you will most certainly have to pay for the testing. That can run up to about $1,100, depending on where you go versus the $0 you will find yourself paying if the school district does it for you.
Once you choose where to get your kiddo tested, you need to know that two basic types of tests are: IQ tests and achievement tests. The schools usually use the later, as they are easier to document from their standard elementary school files. They are merely testing what your child already knows. You will usually end up hearing what “level” your child reads at or what “grade” level they are at for math.
These tests can be problematic as many things are not taken into account. Miss Sarah was dinged on her reading as she contractualized words as she was reading aloud for the test. She would say “can’t” instead of “can not” and take a scoring hit. We were to learn later that she could write an entire story by just using the first letter of every word, and be able to read it back to you a week later with ease.
IQ tests are pretty standard with standard results: An IQ test of 85-114 is average. A test between 115 and 129 is referred to as mild giftedness, 130-144 moderate giftedness, and 145 to 159 high giftedness. Over 160 is usually labeled “genius”, or exceptionally gifted.
What are the possible drawbacks of testing?
It might depend on your motivation for testing:
- Do you want to get your kid into a DEP or TAG program? If your kid is, in fact, gifted, will you be aiming for a Differentiated Education Plan?
- So you want to shut other parents up about your involvement in your kid’s education?
- Is it to verify what you see in your kid?
Do you let your child know their IQ? I have seen TAG parents talking about their little genius, and then soon, that kid believes it. They can do no wrong, and an unflattering personality can develop. Will you be treating your kiddo differently?
If your child is “normal,” are you going to be OK with it?
That all being said, without proper identification and appropriate programming, gifted children are at great risk for underachievement and dropping out of school.
What are the next steps you will take?
I want to start by sharing what parents seem to expect from a ALP/TAG program, as often, the schools don’t really seem to ask the parents about how to help your talented and gifted child.
In today’s era of Core Curriculum, tests suck. Kids are being taught to take tests instead of really to learn the material. Teachers often provide “busy work” for kids who finish work ahead of the others. It can be in the form of worksheets, additional websites or aps, even encouraging kids to work ahead in math programs, etc. This does not work for kids who wish they could get a grade above an “A”. Busy work for the sake of keeping busy is not the answer. Pulling children out of class to work one-on-one with this same concept does not work either.
Some teachers teach kids to delve deeper into topics on their own. This only works if they will accept that, in place of their core curriculum. Making them do an assignment? UGH.
What parents really want is help with the incredible emotional frustrations that these kids have:
- The perception of failure. This is the same thing that kids on the other end of the spectrum feel! They are labeled so early that they feel pressured to live up (or down) to what is expected of them.
- The external and internal pressures of perfection. These bright kids have so many things come easy to them that they are often frustrated when they don’t master something quickly. They also deal with people expecting so much of them, once they are “outed” as being smart.
- The Frustrations of age/vs knowledge. It can be hard to find age-appropriate material for the advanced level of your kid.
- The ability to understand adult situations but not be able to effect them – Anyone hear of Greta Thunberg? Our own president called her Mentally Retarded. I am not trying to make this political, but many adults do not seriously accept the voice of those that they consider just children.
Parents also want to know how they can best support their children. How to feed that emotional need and educational need that the kid has.
What should schools expect from ALP/TAG Parents
This only seems fair, especially if you are attempting to partner with your child’s learning team to do the best for your child and their education. This is what they want when they help your talented and gifted child.
- Constructive Criticism, not firing bullets. I have never seen anyone jump up and beg to help a person who is yelling at them. Have you? If what they are doing isn’t working, suggest ways to change that plan for a better result.
- Help to tweak the process. Do not expect them to do it all for you, plan to be a part of that process and work with them to make it happen.
- Be accessible. Be willing to meet them at least half-way. Make yourself available to their suggestions and also let them know (nicely) if you disagree.
- Maybe even go so far as to create a Parent Advisory Panel to review policies, handbook, share ideas on what does and doesn’t work from your point of view with them
Ideas that have worked for talented and gifted kids at school (according to the experts) :
Teacher Training – Let us face it: teachers are now more than teachers! Teachers are Socials Workers primarily now with large class sizes, and kids coming to school without adequate sleep, food, or clothing. They have so many kids that aren’t ready to learn, and then the CORE curriculum ties their hands on the creative aspects they used to be able to employ. Teachers can be trained to teach TAG kids effectively, but to do they have the added time actually to implement it?
In Wisconsin and many other states, there is no requirement for teacher training in giftedness or gifted education. That means that they have no idea on how to help your TAG child, especially if (s)he is not identified by earlier methods. I already mentioned that America’s top students do not perform well when compared to their counterparts around the world.
Leveraging Technology – Colleges do this, so it is easy for kids to do! Many college professors rely on technology instead of textbooks for lectures, reading materials, even YouTube videos. We have seen this with Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin and, even the University of Iowa. It is easy for schools to do with math programs, like Aleks. Kids can work ahead, and if they finish the entire year early? They can take one less exam. Khan academy is another popular one for schools, again, allowing kids to work at their own pace or ahead. Teachers can have a few websites bookmarked for the students who need or want MORE – some kids would LOVE it if they could get a grade above an A.
Cluster learning/grouping – This is the big winner, hands down. The one mistake teachers make is they partner kids up by group: DEP kids working with DEP kids, “normal range” working with “normal range” kids and DEP kids working with DEP kids. If you want IEP kids to strive to shuck the label and work for more? They NEED to be with kids from the other two groups. DEP kids? Often need the social skills that working with the other two groups can assist them with. Who wants to raise another Sheldon Cooper?
Besides working within their class, pair kids up with another entire grade, if possible. Have them work with younger classes – Kindergartners ROCK! They love to learn from other kids, soak it all up, and are fun to be with. You see those leadership skills really pop out!It is even great to coach them to lead a unit in class. Have a student taking a college-level Astronomy class? Here is what the elementary school did for Miss Sarah: She led a Google Slide presentation to the entire 5th grade class and then led them in a mock asteroid impact crater experiment.
Collaborative assignments – Seeing how teachers can “stretch” CORE concepts to meet over-achiever needs is something that we personally have had issues with. I already mentioned that they are super busy already and have really no time to focus on this. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “But CORE Curriculum won’t let us do that...”. I think that sentence is easier than trying to squeeze it into an already hectic schedule they have.
What is wrong with the system (according to a few parents):
Testing/identification does not start until 2nd grade. By waiting a few years, there are a lot of missed opportunities. Gifted kids can come off as bored and disruptive, even apathetic in class. They usually do not have fantastic grades and receive more attention for correcting poor behavior. Is that a way to help your talented and gifted child? They often become disenfranchised with certain topics, and we see that easily by the simple statistics that girls are often discouraged in STEM fields as early as fourth grade. If you think your kiddo is ahead of the game, push to verify your thoughts.
More testing than necessary to identify if the child is really in the top five percent. Once that happens, school district budgets often run out so there are no actual resources left to work with the kids. I listened to Doctor Scott Peters this last year and love this quote: “Child is identified and gets services (…well, maybe)” because those budgets or overstretched teachers can’t cover it. There is almost no funding at the federal level for gifted education or services, and in Wisconsin? The annual budget allows for about $0.25 per child. Many other states spend roughly one hundred times what we do o their gifted kids. Iowa spends about $37,500,000 a year in comparison to Wisconsin’s $237,000. Why waste all that money (sarcasm) on testing instead of actually using it to help the kids?
Bottom line, who cares? Tests are not the alpha and omega of benchmarks, especially when there are five very different areas to test.
CORE Curriculum is a huge problem. It assumes that all kids are the same and that this “cookie-cutter” curriculum will serve all kids well. There is no blending of ideas to help bridge that learning gap. There is no flexibility for the lesson plan. This teaches them to take tests, not to actually learn the material, and creatively show how they learned it.
Options Parents have to support their talented and gifted child outside the school district :
Clubs. Create them or bring them to the area. Sun Prairie did not have a Camp Invention, and I helped the teacher who introduced us to it, bring it to town. Occasionally, Miss Sarah still helps out, schedule permitting.
Scouts. I know very little about Boy Scouts, but know that Girl Scouts is about a lot more than cookies, crafts, and camp. They have a lot of community, leadership, and STEM opportunities and encourage immersion. That annual membership of $35 buys a lot of incredibly discounted opportunities through program partners. As a parent, you can save up to eighty percent on event fees.
College outreach programs for kids. We have used the Belin Blank center from the University of Iowa for a few years, but Madison has WCATY. These programs can be residential or non-residential, and for kids starting at first grade (Belin Blank is tweens on up). They often have scholarships available to help defray the costs.
Actual College. I can not say enough about the University of Wisconsin College Online Program. Most colleges will take kids younger than high school age, with several letters of recommendation from their learning team and then, they have to take an entrance exam. I am not going into detail here as I have an entire article planned for this exact topic.
And then your talented and gifted kid hits puberty…
We all know puberty sucks, but here is something that most parents don not know: kids’ brains change. It is not just the fact that you have a grumpy, irritable tween/teen on your hands overnight because of hormones. All that hard-wiring in their young brains has to be re-wired to match their growing bodies. Their body is being transformed from a child’s body to an adult’s body, and their young brain has to be completely rewritten from a child’s brain to an adult’s brain. The first part of the brain that gets super-sized to be like an adult is the amygdala. That is the part that controls your emotions and your survival instincts. The last part of their brain to grow is the frontal cortex, which helps them rationalize things, and make decisions.
While they are going through this process, they change, and how they need to be nurtured changes too. They might seem to “fall out” of a TAG qualification, but it is unlikely. Just be patient, puberty does not last forever, even if it feels like it does.
Bottom Line to help your talented and gifted child?
Get to the parent meetings and get involved. I am talking everything from parent-teacher conferences to district-wide meetings for your Advanced Learner Program. Just remember, it shouldn’t be an “us vs. them” battle when working with your child’s learning team, most teachers WANT to teach and help kids, or they wouldn’t have chosen that career. There is literally very little funding for these kids, and they all NEED your help.
That being said, there are a few exceptions to the rule, and it is OK to request a change for your child. I remember the sixth-grade science teacher who told me “I did my Master’s Thesis on kids who learn to read early. I know how they take off fast, then eventually, crash and burn. Get ready for the crash with Sarah, it is coming.” That was the last day Sarah had her for a teacher because I am the General Contractor for her education. I fired her through the principal by getting Sarah’s science class switched to a different teacher. YOU are the best advocate for your child.