APs are not adequate

17 06 2010

(Finals are starting and I only have 3, all of them easy, thanks to the number of APs (heh) I took this year, and I’m in a ranting mood, so once more unto the breach…)

For gifted kids, AP classes are hardly better than normal classes. This runs contrary to everything that most administrations would have you believe, but it’s true. My “top 100” high school has almost every AP class College Board offers, and by the time I graduate I’ll have taken most of them, so I speak from experience here: AP classes are easy. Straight A’s require a minimum of effort. I haven’t needed to study at all the entire year, just as I studied not at all last year, or the year before.

The problem is that there is a failure in public schools to distinguish “bright” from “gifted.” There are a great number of bright students in my school, and for them APs are wonderful. I would never advocate taking them away. The problem is that truly gifted kids are different. Gifted doesn’t just mean that you’re above average except perhaps under the bizarre definition the school system has invented. To quote SwitchedOnMom,

“I’m sorry, but I will go to my grave believing that some kids just come into this world wired differently, that they are objectively, qualitatively “gifted,” “cognitively advanced,” call it what you will.”

I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it in other people, and god dammit, there is a difference. Truly gifted kids are something else entirely. A lot of APs are so far below many gifted kids’ ability levels that they’ll have the same problems in an AP class that they would in a normal class. After all, an AP class is modeled after an ordinary intro level college class: if a 10th grader is 3 years above grade level and smart enough to thrive at a top 20 college, the average intro level college class is a piece of cake for her.

There are students who shouldn’t have to bother taking AP classes in a subject: they should go straight into higher level college classes because they’re ready for them, and the AP class is just a waste of time. But most schools require that you finish the AP in a subject before they allow you to move on to higher level courses even if it’s clear that you have no need for the AP material.

This has nothing to do with arrogance or elitism, whatever many anti-GT people say. I think that providing enough of a challenge for the “only” bright kids is every bit as important as providing a challenge for those few are truly gifted. I don’t think that giftedness makes one more important or better or anything like that. Most of my favorite people in the world are “only” smart.

No, what this is about is everyone being challenged. When AP classes are a lot of work but easy, they are not providing “adequate rigor.” When AP classes are a joke, and students get A’s and 5s without ever opening their textbooks, they are not providing “adequate rigor.” That’s by design: they are not intended for the type of kids I’m talking about. They’re designed for the many smart kids for whom normal classes are too easy. They aren’t designed for the kids who could, if they were pushed, handle a real high level college course load as 10th graders.

If schools are really interested in giving all students adequately difficult classes, then they will end the useless linear progression that so hurts gifted students. Requiring a year stuck in an AP class before you can take a college class at your real level is just as inane a policy as requiring a year in a normal class when the student is ready for the AP class.





In Which More GT Hilarity Earns a Post

6 10 2009

Jay Mathews has provided me with the opportunity for fun yet again, but this time by being right and provoking a hilarious response from the target of his article.

First, the backstory can be found here.

Read it? Good. Now, the response. Oh my, the response.

“Dear Jay,

First, let me stress how irresponsible it is to generalize about an entire school system’s commitment to meeting the academic needs of its students based on the alleged experiences of one child. Educators in Howard County are committed to providing all students with a rigorous, challenging education experience.”

How very irresponsible of you, Jay! You took a well documented case, added it to other similar cases of which you had knowledge, and drew a reasonable conclusion! Horrifying!

“And we are hardly “clueless” about the importance of the total high school experience in the student’s intellectual and personal development. By the tone of this piece, it is obvious that you have already determined that the information provided by the parent is accurate and that the school system is a heartless bureaucracy, rather than a group of dedicated professionals committed to serving the best interest of children.”

Importance of the total high school experience in intellectual development? Did you even read what he wrote? The whole point is that the district refused to allow itself to be a part of the kid’s intellectual development at all. And again with the attacking his journalistic integrity. Jay Mathews is many things, but lazy in his reporting is certainly not one of them.

“Central and school-based personnel for the school system have spent an overwhelming amount of time working to address the needs of this particular student. The school system has offered numerous opportunities and accommodations to no avail. We respect the laws governing the confidentiality of student records and therefore, we will not comment further on this child’s circumstances.

Education involves more than simply scoring well on tests. The standards we have implemented are designed to uphold the integrity of the high school diploma; another responsibility we do not take lightly.”

The integrity of the diploma my foot. A student with straight D’s gets a diploma. It’s not some sort of high honor that we’re talking about, here. In addition, yes, education is more than mere test scores. However, you’re working quite diligently against the true nature of education (learning). Might want to fix that before you go on about what education really is.

“The Maryland High School Assessments are end-of-course exams. In order to meet the Maryland Graduation requirement a student is required to successfully complete the course as well. Howard County curriculum is far more extensive than the baseline knowledge required to pass the HSA in each content area. Class discussions, group work, research, and other activities that take place in the classroom enrich and enhance the educational experience.”

Hehehehe. Yeah. Those rigorous tests that absolutely aren’t a joke. And we provide so much more! Really! What’s that you say? He did college level work? WELL WE’RE GRAD SCHOOL LEVEL THEN! GET IN LINE!

“Education also involves more than just intellectual development so when deciding whether to move a student to an advanced grade, educators consider (and discuss with the parents) the following factors:
· Academic achievement level
· Age of the student
· Previous accelerations
· Attendance record
· Parental concerns
· Developmental factors
· Health factors
· Emotional factors
· Report card
· IEP
· 504 Plan”

That’s nice. You’re providing a list of all the things you ignored. How helpful ^_^

“The HCPSS does award credit for home schooling and college courses provided those experiences cover the same objectives as a comparable course offered in our high schools and the student demonstrates mastery of the content. Credit will only be awarded if the student completes the college course.”

He did.

“We take great exception to the statement that “Howard has been slower than other districts in this area to embrace acceleration…” Grade skipping is not the only way to accelerate instruction. Since the early 1980’s the HCPSS has offered comprehensive Gifted and Talented programming and enrichment opportunities in all schools.”

Jay to the rescue! “Howard has lagged in AP participation for some time for a district with so many affluent, well-prepared students. But it has, as I said, gotten better, from an AP participation rate of 0.649 (ratio of college-level tests to graduating seniors) in 2000 to a rate of 1.670 in 2008. That is still below the rate of 2.692 in Montgomery County, very similar to Howard demographically.”

Currently over 40% of our students participate in our Gifted and Talented program offerings across all grades.

Explaining all the things wrong with this would literally take weeks, so I’ll stick with the most obvious: “What the ****?!” Her argument is quite literally “we do not know what the words ‘Gifted’ and ‘Talented’ mean, so clearly we are in the right!” GT, madame, is not a tool for boosting self esteem. GT is not a way to get large numbers that your district can brag about to potential tax payers. GT, madame, is providing adequate education to children far beyond the normal range. Far, far fewer than 40% of people are significantly above average in at least one area. Less than 16% of people are even one standard deviation above the average. Only about 2.5% are above the 2 standard deviations that generally qualifies as “gifted.” This is absolutely basic. Why is the district conducting PR via its pet donkey rather than, say, a mouth?

“In elementary schools, our GT mathematics curriculum is accelerated by at least two years. Other enrichment opportunities are provided through school wide enrichment programs general exploratory activities, instructional seminars, curriculum extension units, and research investigations. In Middle Schools the school wide enrichment programs continue and students also have access to advanced course work in Geography and World Cultures, US History, English, Science, and Mathematics as well as an after-school accelerated G/T Mathematics Program.”

Any time you see “enrichment” in a GT context, it becomes a fairly safe assumption that the school is lying to you. This is certainly the case here. The relevant parts are the GT math, which is their only real acceleration, and the APs. The problem with claiming APs as GT courses…they aren’t. The way APs are conducted, the classes are tailored to moderately above average, hard working students. I got a 5 in AP US history essentially without opening my textbook for anything after about 1850. AP World is proving no more difficult, and neither are AP Chem or Govpol. Same for English.

“Our high schools address the needs of our most gifted students with G/T, honors and advanced placement courses, college-level independent research and a well-established Intern/Mentor Program.”

You’re just too lazy to make them work for anyone who hasn’t fit neatly into your tracking.

“Should you have need for clarification of any of the above information, please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Patti Caplan

Director of Public Relation”

I’d like to clarify: why do you think that we are stupid?





Squirrels!

23 09 2009

http://xkcd.com/167/

If you understand half the stuff I post on this blog, you probably just smiled. Good =) If you don’t…well, you probably still smiled. Also good =)
Reason I’m linking it? Hint: “Existential angst, existential angst, existenti- SQUIRREL! *plays with squirrel* ^.^”





CTY post rewrite (this time wiith 100% added coherence!)

25 07 2009

(Because the last post was essentially me at my whiny pathos-filled worst, which completely trashed the point I was trying to get across, I figured I’d rewrite it as a coherent, intelligent post. Friends don’t let friends post without sleep!)

I posted a while ago about why magnet schools matter, and I think it’s time for another example along those lines: CTY (Center for Talented Youth). It’s a summer program for 12-16 year olds run by Johns Hopkins that requires certain SAT scores to get in. There’re classes in a lot of different topics, both ones that would normally be done in high school and ones that you normally won’t see till college (logic, cog psych, ethics, existentialism, philosophy of mind, one site has neuroscience, etc). The classes are, in general, very well done, fun and, even for the very intelligent kids going there, challenging. Example: my logic class covered the equivalent of one and a half college semester courses. Oh, and we did it in three weeks.

Now, forget all about all of that, because it’s completely irrelevant. This post isn’t about challenging courses. It’s about people.

CTY’s a place where the top end of the ability curve can find a community. Unlike just about anywhere else, there’re lots of other people like you there. Any strange, obscure reference you make, probably at least 3 people in earshot will get. Any weird thought you have won’t seem all that weird to more than a few people present.

And the same goes for how you act. A lot of gifted kids are, let’s face it, pretty crazy sometimes. But that’s perfectly normal there. In fact, it becomes self reinforcing so that almost everyone acts even weirder than normal. And, because we’re all like that, it’s Ok! You get cheered on, not made fun of.

And by that same principal, because there’s a lot of the shared experience of being pretty lonely at home sometimes, people are very quick to form friendships, and just generally very accepting of and nice to each other. People understand, and so they accept. Most of us have a few friends who will do that so that we can be ourselves with them at home, but here for three weeks it’s like that with most people!

And that’s important. Being able to feel normal, even if only for three weeks, makes a huge difference to people. That’s true of everyone, but for most people it’s a lot easier to find. Since for us it isn’t, places where we can often end up feeling more like home than home does. I mean that seriously; I can’t remember who it was, but someone at my site said that when kids age out, it’s like being told they can’t come home anymore. That’s really true. That’s how it feels like to lose a place where you feel normal.

The point being, things that bring together gifted kids matter. They don’t just matter for the academic reasons, they matter for the human reasons. If you only truly got the chance to truly feel normal and just another part of the group for three weeks a year, how would you feel? Exactly. Support them. Organize them. Advocate for more of them. Don’t just help the middle feel better, help us too.

For any CTYers who may happen to be reading this, I love CTY, I love the Passionfruit, and I ❤ you all! “I like you, I love you, I CTY you, I miss you.”





CTY or, What I’ve Been Saying

24 07 2009

[This post is rewritten in the next post. That one’s much better, so I’m taking this one down. Go read that one]





“Everyone is gifted”

11 03 2009

“Everyone is gifted”

It’s a common phrase whether you’re talking to educators, parents or just about anyone else who has an opinion on education. It’s also flat out wrong or nonsense (take your pick).

If it’s nonsense, that’s because it’s rendering “gifted” meaningless. If everyone is gifted, then isn’t saying that someone is gifted the same as saying that they’re a human? Is gifted education created with the intent of every child going through it when they go through school? No? Then not everyone is gifted. Gifted doesn’t mean that you’re better, but it absolutely means you’re better at. That’s the point. The two are not the same thing, and people need to stop acting as if they were.

If it’s wrong, it’s fairly self evident why. Not every child is intellectually above age level. I mean, I understand not everyone is good at math, but this isn’t a difficult concept. It isn’t possible for everyone to be above average. It doesn’t work that way. And yet, amazingly, we get told otherwise by people with a straight face and, even more amazingly, with good intentions.

This is one of the biggest red flags parents of gifted kids should watch out for, I think, because when you hear this line, the problem (whether it’s ignorance of the subject or an active antipathy to gifted education) likely runs very deep. If you hear someone in charge of your child’s education say this, make sure you watch what they do very, very closely.