Monday, October 19, 2009

To Be or Not to Be ... Smart

About this time of year, lots of elementary schools across the nation gear up for testing kids to see who qualifies for "gifted" status. Some schools begin this process as early as first grade, but a majority start in second or third.

Most exams have a component where the child learns concepts from easy questions at the beginning of the test, then applies those concepts as the level of difficulty increases. In other words, the child builds on what is learned independently and does a little out-of-the-box-thinking to solve problems. A score of 95 per cent or better usually earns the "gifted" label, although districts and states vary. In some schools, state standardized test scores, performance on classwork, and teacher evaluation are also figured into the equation.

Parents frequently stress over whether their children qualify for the smart-kid designation, but there are several reasons to take a deep breath and relax.

  1. Often kids, especially nervous test takers, miss the "gifted" label the first time around. Parents or teachers can request another test in later years. Many students join the gifted ranks as late as eighth grade.
  2. Gifted testing measures only a small portion of a person's intelligence. If your child makes it, congratulations. Now you will have additional avenues open to your child to take advantage of at most schools. A word of caution: "Gifted" status usually means you will have other wrinkles (e.g. social, organization, focus, patience) to iron out along the way.
  3. Funds for gifted programs usually come from special education. Most gifted kids struggle with social skills or patience for learning new concepts that don't come easily for them. Keeping these kids tuned into what's going on in a classroom and getting them to finish their work or do their homework can be challenging as well. In a sense, gifted programs are special ed for smart kids. If your child doesn't qualify for the gifted program, it may not be a bad thing.
  4. Sometimes gifted programs offer special opportunities, such as additional field trips and science projects. But too often, teachers pile on extra work rather than offering more challenging work or "differentiated instruction" for gifted kids. Smart does not necessarily mean fast, and some kids drown in the extra work.
  5. Intelligence alone doesn't tend to make people happy. The deciding factor as to whether a person is successful in life hinges on self discipline rather than intelligence. Your child will go much further in life knowing how to delay gratification and to see projects through to completion than scoring high on IQ tests. If your child does both, way to go!
  6. Your child is in exactly the right place right now. Personal skills and interests will emerge and develop. Encourage your little one to build on whatever sparks curiosity, jump on your child's band wagon, and enjoy the ride!

To get smart kids engaged in school, see my earlier blog post Gifted Contracts.

If you have questions or experiences you'd like to share, send an email to or leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!