NAVIGATING GIFTED EDUCATION IN A STATE WITH NO MANDATES
By Traci Failla, parent of a gifted child
When my son was 12 months old, he heard me encouraging his older sister to get ready to leave for an activity. He sat on the floor near the back door, picked up his shoes and said, “Put shoes on.”
When he was 2 years old, he counted the fans on two floors of a house we were looking at, then added the totals from each floor together and announced to our realtor and me, “This house has nine fans.”
At that point, the encouragement – and warnings – began, “You have to get him into one of those gifted programs at the public schools.”
Our son appeared to be gifted. Great news! “Our only challenge will be the commute to these programs,” we thought, since very few were near our home. But, I knew that there were many flaws with the process of getting into our public school system’s gifted program. My family lives in a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded.
After a high score on the individually administered test given by our public school system when he was four years old failed to get him one of the very few spots offered, we were disappointed but registered again for the next year’s testing process. Some of the schools begin their programs at the first grade level. And after touring a school I absolutely loved, I said to my husband, “I think that the reason we didn’t get it last year was because we were meant to be at this school.”
But, that didn’t happen. When my son and I showed up to the testing for the first grade entry, we were greeted with an auditorium filled with no less than 100 students and their parents. My five-year-old boy was assigned a color and sent into a room with 30 other kids to take a test that was administered by a single person with three helpers roaming the room to assist. His response when I asked how it went was, “I was mad, sad and bored!” We weren’t too surprised when we found out we didn’t make it in that year either.
In a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded, testing for a program can be like a cattle call, despite the fact that many gifted kids have strong sensory reactions and social issues. And the test doesn’t have to be an IQ test. And the system doesn’t need to accept any outside testing. And many high-IQ kids don’t get in.
We remain at our small Catholic school, close to our home, which means that we can enjoy things like walking to school, dedicated teachers and open communication with the principal. In a world where I hear about schools reserving parent-teacher conferences for only students having difficulties, this is a good thing. But, it is not a gifted education, though we have begun working together to address his needs.
And a gifted education is what would be best for my son, though we have few, if any, choices in a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded. Our public school program is reportedly really an accelerated program and not suited to a kid who loves to repair remote control helicopters and hates to do worksheets. The private schools for gifted kids in our area are, at minimum, an hour away and charge more than twice as much as our Catholic school in tuition.
We are lucky that we have a principal and a learning specialist who have recognized our son as gifted since he was three. They didn’t need or ask for an IQ test, but we did a full neuro-assessment – which we paid for ourselves – so that we could have the numbers. In a state where gifted education is not mandated or funded, and frequently misunderstood, we need these scores.
Without mandates and funding, gifted education is a tricky thing to navigate. There are few programs, and some are not what most experts would consider truly gifted programs. The testing can be whatever the system wants, or it may be based on standardized tests alone, accepting children who are simply good students and missing those who think differently. It doesn’t need to occur at all, and teachers don’t need to know how to identify a gifted kid or address one.
For families like ours, we piece together what we can to create educational experiences that support our children’s needs. We work with teachers who, we hope, are cooperative with differentiating our child. We spend a lot of time figuring out what that means and how we can bring it to our child’s teacher in an appropriate way.
We enroll our kids in extra-curricular programs for gifted children that help fill in what’s missing at school. They are an added expense and time spent away from other leisure pursuits. Luckily, for many of us, our kids enjoy these programs and don’t consider them “school” at all.
As a resident of a state where gifted education is barely on the radar, I have a hard time imagining how far advocacy could really get us before my son enrolls in college. So, if you find yourself in a place where gifted education is mandated, funded or both, my advice is that it is worth your time to be an avid supporter so that it stays that way.