Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Reading Labels And Label Reading

Yesterday Havoc was officially labeled with the 'disability' of being gifted. Isn't that just a bit off? I understand the reasons for the legalese. I still think it's a strange way of doing things. And the process by which this label was obtained has been nothing short of Byzantine. I am extremely ambivalent about it - about the process and about the label itself. Havoc is brilliant. He has the academic benefit of being the youngest of five. (After all, how many pre-schoolers do you know who know their multiplication tables? But with two, third-grade siblings doing a half an hour of math drill in the carpool every single solitary morning for a year, what can you expect??) In addition to that though, he has always been an atypical thinker. He is fascinated by patterns and maps and relationships. He connects and reconnects facts over and over again. He looks at things from very interesting perspectives. He also reads like a fiend. We're a book oriented family, no doubt about it - but he takes the cake. He is in the first grade and is reading The Thief Lord - a wonderful book my fifth graders read at the beginning of the year! It is awfully difficult to find books that are interesting enough for Havoc from a language standpoint - but which are thematically appropriate. Not that I am complaining! There are waaaay worse challenges to have.

I had him tested for the magnet school two years ago - and he qualified and got put into the lottery to determine places on the waiting list. I am sure that it had NOTHING to do with the fact that I was the only parent unable to be present for the drawing, but he was 'randomly selected' to be 39th on the waiting list of 39. I was told he'll probably make it to the top of the list by 7th grade. Ok. It turns out that I'm not as upset about that as you'd think I would be. I took a good look and listen at the parent meeting I was able to attend. The other parents there? Like tennis moms or cheerleader moms - but of the dork persuasion. Seriously. Overbearing, with voiced, out-of-control high expectations for academic achievement and gobs of free floating anxiety. I didn't meet any of the kids, but the parents freaked. me. out.

I tried to get the 'regular' elementary school to let Havoc skip up a grade. He only misses the cutoff to be in the next class up by a couple of weeks anyway with his November birthday - but no go. Apparently, that's not fashionable in educational circles these days. They cited things like maturity and peer relations. (Ahem, remember the part about his siblings all being 4+ years older than he is? I KNOW how he relates to older kids. Just fine! Besides he wouldn't be THAT much younger than his classmates anyway!!) The educators also were worried that it could impact his self-esteem negatively if he was unable to keep up academically. Did they even LOOK at his achievement test scores? (*The answer to that question is 'No' but more about that below.) They had scheduled us for one hour of testing but couldn't stop the test until he missed a certain number in a row. After TWO AND A HALF HOURS Havoc complained a little about how long it was taking and the tester explained how it worked - and voila! He missed the right number in a row and got to be done and have some candy. He was six. He got the highest percentile their test could measure and was in the middle of sections for fourth and fifth grade work. That was last summer! Right after Kindergarten. He was moving to a new school - I thought it would be perfect. He could just start in second grade and all the kids would accept him as a natural second grader. School's answer: No can do. I kept asking questions. I kept answering the objections they brought up. It came down to the principal saying that it was her decision and hers alone. She did admit that she had in the past allowed children to 'skip' but her answer in my child's case was "No." I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with power, influence, country club membership (or my lack thereof). No, I couldn't possibly get that impression from her shellacked face, coiffed hair, expensive yet ugly tailored clothes, or her patronizing tone and lecture about how I may not know very much about private schools, but here at ____ Elementary the environment was very competitive and although my child had performed well in another (and lesser) environment her experience led her to believe that he would not be able to maintain it at her institution. (Can you tell I wanted to spit?) After much reading about the qualifications it takes to become a nationally recognized "Blue Ribbon School", I am now also sure that the principal's refusal to even consider changing my child's placement has NOTHING to do with the benefits the schools receive when they have kids score well above their grade level. Grrr.

Other options? The 'gifted' program. When I was a kid, the 'gifted' kids were obnoxious. And smelled funny. I realize that is not a very intellectual or rational reason to resist this label for my child - but there it is. I found out waaaay later in life my test scores had qualified me for the 'gifted' program at my school but my parents hated that label and wanted me to be routinely challenged in the general curriculum, not pulled out and treated differently. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, now does it? They chose to pull me out of public school and send me first to a 'non-graded', Catholic school and later to a secular, college prep, all girls' school. I don't have comparable options so we're trying the 'gifted' thing. Oh, I go back and forth about this!

In addition to the detailed paperwork, we had to meet (multiple times!) with a commitee whose purpose was to consider whether my child met the criteria for futher evaluation to determine if he was an appropriate candidate to be tested in order to find out if he is in fact, "gifted". At this committee meeting of seven (teachers/administrators/psychologists), it was explained that if the four intermediate steps were successfully navigated, that my child would undergo several testing regimes including IQ testing, achievement testing, creativity assessments and the like. I asked if there was an issue with the testing that had already been done. The committee chairwoman looked at me blankly. "Already done? What tests?" I said, "The IQ testing, achievement testing, creativity assessments, etc that were done last July." She flipped through her folder. SHE HAD NO RECORD OF IT!! The principal sat there blank faced, studiously NOT LOOKING AT ME! Havoc's first-grade teacher (whom I adore and who is pushing to get him the resources that he needs) said timidly with nervous glances at the principal that she believed she might perhaps have a copy in her files if she could just run get them. The principal glared at me but deigned to allow the copies to be brought forth. I wanted to SCREAM! This mean, petty, power tripping woman had WASTED all of these teachers' time calling a meeting for a screening to determine whether my son was qualified to even take take a test he had ACED a year ago?!! She had the NERVE later in the meeting to pointedly explain that one of the main things the committee would be looking for was whether my son was truly 'gifted' or whether he was "simply a superior academic achiever". If found to be 'merely academic' then he would not be eligible for the gifted label or program she assured me. It is only my deep and abiding faith that snarky, insufferable people come to bad ends that kept me from flipping her off.

She was not present at yesterday's meeting - which I correctly interpreted as a likely indicator that Havoc would get to be in the program next year. In spite of the horrible principal, I like this school. I like the teachers I've come to know (and I detect the tension between them and the administration even if they are too professional to say anything negative -which makes me like them even more!) I have been reassured by many parents who have shared my concern about labels that especially in elementary school these days, the labels are not as big of a deal as they were in 'our day'. One parent who volunteers in the classroom a lot says the kids often mash the two main program names ('resource' and 'search') together and say they're going to 'research' and no one bothers much. I think the Search teacher is amazing. She has told me that she believes Havoc belongs in her program. If for no other reason, she said, than to have some quieter time than the large classroom setting offers to be around the other 8 or 9 kids his age who think and read the way he does. She promised that they really don't smell funny.


1 comment:

Carolie said...

As a "skipper", I can recommend it. We moved a LOT while I was growing up, and at one point, I moved from a private, all-girls school (I was a scholarship kid) outside Philadelphia to a relatively rural public school in North Carolina. They didn't want to skip me, but my mother insisted. Even then they put me in the "slower" classes. I was bored senseless. Took a couple of months, but I finally got moved up to the "advanced" (gifted) classes in my new grade. Moving schools several times, I ended up skipping second grade, repeating fifth grade (we moved back to Philly and I got my scholarship back) and skipping seventh. I graduated second in my class, with a full scholarship to college and a bunch of friends (close friends...five of whom came to my wedding last year, a full 23 years after high school graduation!) So...if you feel a grade skip would be good for Havoc, push it!

Peace back atcha!