When Gifted Students Don’t Measure Up

It’s Really All About the Grades, Isn’t It?

As parents, when we send our children off to school, we want them to receive a great education to prepare them to be successful in life.  We want and love to see them come home with perfect scores on assignments, tests and homework.  Word after word, memorized fact after memorized fact, and next grade level up after the previous grade level –  step by step our children receive a good education and we are assured of this because every box has been checked, every bubble penciled in and every standard taught, mastered and assessed.  And then, the next level is reached …. that is if their grades can accurately prove their achievement.

It’s really all about the grades.  Isn’t it?

We have the comfort of knowing that our children will fulfill their potential and be successful in life once they have received their education with the needed high scores.  The proof is in the pudding ….  A’s = success, right?

High scores, high percentiles, all A’s – these do guarantee success, right?

Nope, I beg to differ.

I’m sure like most parents, we envision our children growing into adults and becoming brilliant concert pianists, innovative entrepreneurs with their own patented invention and business,  and computer programmers who can build and program any computer.  Which is why we make sure that they receive a good education, and we believe this is the ONLY way for them to reach their full potential and be successful in life.

What if those brilliant concert pianists, innovative entrepreneurs with their own patented invention and business,  and computer programmers who can build and program any computer are still in middle school or high school?  What if they blew past all the words, memorized facts, checked boxes and bubbled standardized tests, and they are already passionately and successfully living their dreams?  Do we still insist they learn, step-by-step, the skills they may already know?  Do we reel them back in until each box has been checked?  Do we hold them back because they really need to learn how to do well on a standardized test?  Do we slow down their passionate pace because they are not making all those A’s that they should be?  Do we tell them, “you HAVE to master everything you are being taught in school first, THEN you can go back to being successful and passionately living out your life’s dream”?

I’m sure most would not agree with me.  I know all the reasons anyone would give me to defend your disagreement with me.  That’s okay because I have those very same reasons constantly nagging at me, and making it difficult for me to make decisions regarding my own youngest son’s education.  “If I let him skip ahead, what if he misses some facts, figures or skills along the way?”  “With his average grades, how can I let him skip ahead even though I have seen him do the work?”  There are just some stuff they have to know whether they like it or not.  I get that.

But, let’s look at it a different way.  How many times in your life were you faced with managing a situation where you did not follow the expected,  step-by-step way most people use to manage that particular situation correctly?  You found a short cut or a different way, but still you managed it correctly.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Let’s say that you may be a very good seamstress and your next project is sewing a garment you have never sewn before.  You take out the pattern, quickly breeze through all the directions, even skipping over some, and still expertly sew the garment.  You didn’t need all the step-by-step, detailed directions to produce an excellent outcome.
  • You have a flat tire, but have never changed a flat before.  You visually assess the situation and then instinctively understand exactly how to change a flat.  You didn’t need your car’s owner’s manual with its step-by-step directions to tell you how to change a flat.  Thank goodness changing the flat successfully didn’t depend on you having to read the unnecessary details in the owner’s manual.
  • You are a good cook and you understand how to prepare, combine and use many various types of foods.  You approach each new recipe in much the same way: you skim over the recipe, gather the ingredients, substitute what you have on hand for what you don’t have, and hastily measure (or not measure at all) the ingredients.  Quite literally, you can prepare most dishes just by reading the title of the dish and looking at the cookbook pictures.  The dishes from any new recipe almost always turn out a winner – you are simply an intuitive cook.

So now, let’s give these above situations a little twist:

  • You are a very good seamstress and you have successfully constructed some very nice garments.  You are now faced with sewing a challenging new garment you have never sewn before, but you instinctively know how to do it and can’t wait to jump right in.  You’ve got this!  Oh, but wait!  No, no.  Before you can sew this challenging new garment, you are forced to read all the directions first, word for word.  You are to take a quiz on each section of the directions – a quiz on sewing the sleeve, a quiz on choosing the right type of thread, and a quiz on making a buttonhole.  After each subsequent mundane quiz, you begin to care less and less what your quiz grade is because you are losing your enthusiasm and patience.  You really try to patiently follow the directives given you, you try to tamper your enthusiasm to help you suffer through the monotony, and by the time you’ve complied with all of the directives, you no longer have the enthusiasm you once had, plus you now have below average grades.  Because of your below-average grades, you are now no longer allowed to tackle that challenging new garment until your grades improve.  And even though you could successfully complete the garment with your eyes closed, you can’t until all the boxes are checked and your grades show mastery.
  • You quickly, visually assessed your flat tire and how it is bolted to the car.  This will be a piece of cake for you, and you are ready to just get it done.  Oh, but wait!  No, no.  You must first take the owner’s manual out and read the chapter on how to change a flat tire.  You begin reading and are tested and given a grade on each section.  You know and understand all of the monotonous details, but reading them is so boring, especially when you are capable of jumping right past it and just changing the flat already!  A project you were excitedly ready to tackle has now  lost its appeal.
  • You find a delectable new recipe, you read the title of the dish, look at the picture, skim over the list of ingredients, and you are all set to cook.  Oh, but wait!  No, no.  You must first read and memorize the directions, and then take a quiz.  You will be made to listen to a short review on measurement and conversions in cooking, and yes, there will be a quiz.  You begin to dice…or is it chop?  the vegetables which need to all be cut into uniform, 1 inch squares, as required.  Next, you are reprimanded for creatively substituting a red pepper when the recipe called for a green one.  You begin to doubt your ability to cook because according to your grades, you are not accurate in your measurements.  This must mean you are a terrible cook.

My point is this: are we relying too heavily on checking the boxes, putting too much trust in the grades and test scores, and possibly overlooking or holding back students who are very capable of handling more accelerated work?  Why are we keeping truly gifted students out of high-achieving programs simply based on their grades or test scores – grades and scores that may inaccurately show the ability and capability of the student.  Why do we use standardized test scores as the sole determining factor for student placement in classes, programs or grade-levels?  Are these tests infallible 100% of the time?  One critical test administered on the one day a deserving student woke up with terrible allergies and the results could determine his entire future.  One very nervous student with test-taking anxiety bombs the final exam which is to be used to determine whether he moves on to the next level, a level  he has already shown he is ready for.  One highly-gifted teen is not allowed to take gifted classes because his most recent test scores are low due to an emotionally disastrous year in school.

It’s really all about the grades, isn’t it?

Should it be?

RELATED POSTS:

Gifted, But Not the Right Kind of Gifted

Underachievement in Gifted Children – A Tragic Irony

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