Why We Chose to Assess

That is, why did we choose to have our then 6-year-old daughter take a battery of tests to assess her IQ and approximate grade level in various subjects? And what good does it do us now?

It’s great question, and since I never planned on doing such a thing until I found myself doing it, I can understand why people ask it. Someone asked it on a local gifted e-list I’m on, and this is a version of my response. (Sorry if some parts of the story are familiar!)

We hadn’t thought of doing an assessment until we found that our daughter’s first grade teacher seemed determined to ignore us. We thought we were bringing her useful information about what our daughter already knew, but she seemed sure that we were demanding parents with an inflated opinion of our daughter’s intelligence. (Ironically, that is part of why we hadn’t thought of doing any assessments earlier — I was so concerned that our daughter’s obvious “advanced abilities” would indict me as a hothousing, pushy parent.) The teacher told us that when kids say they are bored, often things are too hard for them. . . oh, I could go on and on!

We tested with a local psychologist who specialized in working with gifted kids. I was worried that my daughter would be uncomfortable with what turned out to be hours and hours of testing, but she actually enjoyed herself, even as a 6 year old. It is embarrassing to say so, but one of the first benefits of the assessment was that I did not feel as crazy. That’s a lot of money to spend to feel sane, but honestly I was so determined to respect the teacher and the school and not act like one of “those” parents that I was starting to think I was wrong about my daughter.

The information proved to be much less helpful with the school than I had hoped. When we discussed a grade skip, our principal said, “I know she’s advanced in reading and writing, I don’t care about that. They have to be advanced in math.” When the achievement tests demonstrated that she was able to do work several grades above her current level in math, however, we still got no acceleration in math and a one-grade bump in other subjects.

The psychologist had already told us that a one-grade skip was really not going to be helpful in this case, and boy was that true! When Violet figured out that 2nd grade was really no different from 1st grade, her behavior took a nose dive, and we were at our wit’s end.

So the immediate educational benefit of our assessment was not that it got us any further with the school, but that it gave us the confidence to pull her from school and start homeschooling. We were ready to trust our own judgement and act accordingly. (I do hold out hope that test numbers will help someday if we stop homeschooling, however. We continue to do above level testing through talent search.) Had homeschooling not been an option, it would have spurred us to take some other action, rather than let her sit and suffer because I didn’t want to look like a demanding parent or ruffle any feathers with teachers or friends. I can’t really reflect on my reticence up to that point with any pride.

If we had not done those assessments, not only would I have been unable to get *any* movement from the school, but I suspect I would not have tried so hard. I really had no concept of how out of place she was.

Along those lines, the assessments helped us understand *why* school wasn’t working. Like many parents of gifted children, my husband and I are bright people. We work in competitive professions with bright people, went to selective colleges with bright people, and so tend to have friends who are bright people with bright kids. I skipped two grades and graduated college early before going to a competitive grad school program, where I felt outclassed by geniuses at every turn. Of course from my perspective, I am nothing special, neither is my social circle, and neither are my kids.

Numbers really help in this regard — they provide a good reality check that says yep, my kid really is measurably, significantly different in some respects and so needs some significantly different things in some respects. I am less likely to underestimate what she is really capable of, which matters when I am the one in charge of her curriculum. When she seems resistant and listless, 4 out of 5 times it’s because she’s underchallenged. I don’t know if I would understand that without having good assessments, and having done the subsequent research about kids like her, and it has made a tremendous difference in successful homeschooling.

They also help when people question what we’re doing. We don’t share a lot with “outsiders,” but I don’t like to lie either, and so we do get some flack when I mention something that is high school or college level. It’s good to be able to remind myself that the numbers, as well as my own observations, support what we’re doing.

Sorry to be so long winded. I guess the gist of what I’m saying is that the assessment went a long way in helping us to understand our child, trust our own understanding, and see where our own experiences distort our understanding. I also understand that plenty of people out there will still disapprove of such assessments and labels, to which I can only say “bully for you!” I needed more help.

Many parents and teachers need more help, and for them assessments are a good choice.

I should add that we have not done any assessments with Victoria, who is just now 6. We’ll do the Peabody with her in the fall just because that’s what we’ve done in the past to fulfill homeschool legal requirements, and we’ll see. I am starting to consider it just because I think I am guilty of underestimating this child, because she is not the same kind of learner I am and her sister is. I will probably wait at least another year to decide. We assessed the first time out of a sense of desperation, and thankfully we are not there now!

At least this has made me more sympathetic with teachers (except that one first grade teacher!) It is quite possible to love a child and watch her closely, and still not get just how gifted she is.



Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is)

7 responses to “Why We Chose to Assess

  1. inneedofchocolate

    Thanks so much for sharing this! We’ve considered doing an assessment with my almost 6yo. We chose not to have her assessed 1.5 years ago when we wanted her to enter kindergarten but she was 8 days too young to make the cut off. We chose a combination of 3 day/week private K and homeschool rather than go through the school systems laborious dooming-you-to-fail assessment process for early K entry. Now, however, like for you, I think an assessment might help me in making future educational choices and tailoring her curriculum this year for first grade.

  2. shaun

    Isn’t that the truth — I don’t get the early K entrance standards. We didn’t bother, knowing they’d take any excuse to say no.

  3. This is an excellent presentation of a whole range of positive things testing can do.

    I think the problem with a blanket refusal to test is similar with a blanket push to test. It isn’t the test per se that is the problem. It is how it will be used.

    And if you don’t have a sense of what you want out of testing, nor how to use the test results to inform your own decision making process (which is always also influenced by other considerations), then tests are pretty pointless.

    I suspect many people start down this road as you did — needing the test to bolster an argument with a school. But your account of all the other things it helped you with is invaluable.

    I think that bit about how you and your husband and your friends are all smart people with higher degrees and how that impacts your assessment of your child is particularly important for me.

    I also share your fear of being seen as a pushy parent and have yet to figure out a way of talking about what Freya is doing without being perceived as such.

  4. Angela, QueenBee

    Excellent post, and a great story. If I may, I can also share an added benefit that was gained from testing, albeit down the road. When Buzz got to the stage of disagreeable and lazy attitude toward learning, he began complaining that the work was just “too difficult.” My husband, a big softie, was very often inclined to believe him, for it was not easy to admit that Jr. would be trying to manipulate us to get out of work šŸ™‚ However, those off the chart results made it very difficult for him to argue away a simple five-paragraph essay in that way. Not suggesting that your girls will go that route, but it was nice to have that in the back pocket! šŸ™‚

  5. What a thoughtful post.

    I just assume my child really is this bright–about 20% of the time.

    The other 80% of the time, I wonder if I am making it up and (only silently, only to myself) being a braggart. Living with his 10yo-boydom does not make it any easier to decode him! Perhaps we should look into testing sooner rather than later. (We were thinking of waiting until the talent searches of 7th grade.)

    Thanks for your question-provoking post.

  6. Great Post!!
    Our troubles began when Grace was in Preschool for 3 mornings a week. She was just “doing her own thing” as far as the social was concerned, and we ket getting “Doogie Houser” comments from the classroom aides. The teachers, predictably, were *incredulous* that she was different than anyone else in the classroom, even though on the first day of the 3-4 y/o room she had gone to the door, taken down the roster stickers and called out the names of the class members. (“Alexandra? Is there an ‘Alexandra’ here?”) One teacher actually stared at me , open-mouthed in disbelief, upon being told of the scores that her private testing yielded.
    Knowing what levels she was at due to testing really helped to pinpoint why she was so different.
    We were lucky that we got that reaction out of the preschool teachers, because it made it easier to advocate for her later.

  7. Christine

    Thanks for posting this Shaun. We’ve had a very similar experience. Our mantra is “Why wouldn’t we want more information about what our child needs?” But that doesn’t always help when you get those looks from other parents, teachers, administrators who think we’re crazy parents for assessing. The other reminder I give myself is that in many school districts around the country, they systematically assess every child to make sure they get what they need. Since our district chooses not to, we play that role. Anyway, great post!

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