By Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
News stories abound about girls suddenly outperforming boys in the very early grades, obscuring the fact that increasingly more boys than girls are taking "gifted" tests. Either way, Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers say kids are getting tested too young.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
A 1973 classic study was done by Robert McCall of the University of Pittsburgh and U.C.–San Diego's Mark Appelbaum. They looked at the stability of childhood IQ, testing 80 children who'd taken the tests roughly once a year between the ages of 2½ and 18. They found that IQ scores were least stable before the age of 6.
"How can you lock children into a specialized educational experience at so young an age?" asks McCall. "As soon as you start denying kids early, you penalize them almost progressively. Education and mental achievement builds on itself. It's cumulative."
Despite very serious questions about the value of testing such young children, there's a strong trend in this direction.
The National Association for Gifted Children reports that "no federal agency or organization collects these (gifted) student statistics." Yet states seem to be testing kids at younger and younger ages. Elite schools in New York City require testing for admission to kindergarten. In Colorado, parents begin the process for early entrance to kindergarten or first grade by completing an application that includes samples of student's work in math, writing and drawing. In Arizona, testing for giftedness begins in kindergarten.
Parents themselves are rushing their children into these testing programs. The Internet is loaded with page after page of advice columns, blogs and ads for books to help tell if your kid is really smart. (Some 3 million children of all ages are in gifted programs around the United States, the National Association for Gifted Children reports.)
The problem is, as we label kids as gifted earlier and earlier, we are surely missing many children who could take advantage of such programs.
If boys are routinely missed early, will their parents start to look differently at them? Chances are they'll think, "My kid just doesn't have the right stuff." In their panic, parents may rush their very young boys into programs that promise to make them smarter. In all likelihood, parents just have to wait a year a two until their sons catch up.
What's needed here is a dollop of common sense. We certainly want to encourage our gifted children, both boys and girls. But prematurely rushing them into testing flies in the face of our best scientific knowledge.
The tortoise often catches up to the rabbit, if we just let kids develop normally.
Dr. Rosalind Chait Barnett is a senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. They are co-authors of "Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our children and Our Jobs."
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