Thursday, February 25, 2010

Raising Gifted Children: Help Me, Kim

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People often ask me for advice on getting services for their gifted children through their public schools. I'm pretty much a failure in that area myself, so I'm not sure why anyone would bother to ask me; I think it's because of this blog. At any rate, for I'm neither a doctor, a lawyer, nor successful advocate for gifted children, but here goes.

(Please note I've edited this request down a bit.)

I'm in need of some help. I recently put my children in public school after 2.5 years of homeschooling. I consider my kids gifted, since at age 4 my son taught himself to read by listening to me teach his older sister to read.

Once in school I told his teacher that while "emotionally" and "attention span" wise he was on the same level with his age group, he was ahead academically.

The first few weeks, he got in trouble for talking out of turn because he was done with his work early, so I told him to try to keep busy and not to distract others, so now he putzes around and takes just as long as the other kids to do his work but he's bored. The teacher says she can't/won't deviate from the curriculum because she has no "proof" of his being as "smart as I claim". He's spelling words far above his spelling list and acing every test, and even bringing books to class to read that are far above 2nd grade reading levels.

What I need is a way to talk some sense into her without turning all psycho on her! How do you all do this? It was such a struggle to get him in 2nd grade, since we homeschooled (I used a non accredited program, and so without any test scores or "proof" it was a struggle). Any advice would be appreciated!



Thanks for writing, J. Like your son's teacher, I have no idea is your child is gifted, but unlike that wizened woman, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

And let me tell you, in my experience, teachers appreciate you letting them know how bright and advanced your child is almost as much as they love you asking to come and observe them teaching, which is to say, not much. Not much at all.

I would recommend getting your son tested for IQ and achievement in order to have objective measures of his abilities and levels to show the school. You can ask the school to provide such testing and they may do it. Or not. In some states the school may actually be mandated to provide these for you. Even so, private testing (through an educational psychologist) though expensive (several hundred to well over a $1,000), is, in my experience, so much more thorough and may be worth pursuing.

Of course, the scores are only half the battle because the school still needs to be willing to accommodate your child. Prepare to have a meeting or three with the teachers, school psychologist and/or the principal.

A friend of mine home schooled and eventually sent her son to public school as a 4th or 5th grader. I think it took a year or two to for him to fully adjust to school and find his academic groove. Some teachers and administrators tried to lay a guilt trip on my friend that she had essentially screwed up her son up by having him at home. I would not be surprised if you experience the same. That said, somewhere along the line you will find a teacher or administrator who is more sympathetic and willing to advocate for your child. Grab on to this person and don’t let them go!

The plain, hard truth is that is that public schools work most efficiently if everyone stays in line. You will likely be chastised for having your child work above grade level and will be encouraged to keep him “in line” with the curriculum. Happens all the time. It just makes their jobs so much easier if your son is in the "right" box. *sigh*

If you can get any accommodations this year, huzzah! It's almost March, so more likely, you will be laying the groundwork for next school year. Things tend to move slowly in bureaucracies. Then again, in some states the school code spells out time lines for testing and implementing interventions; know your laws. You can start by looking at the state-by-state map at Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

Even more likely, the advocacy you do for your child will help other students down the line. Though honestly, that’s a source of cold comfort if you feel that your own child’s needs are not being met.

It's tough being the new mom in school. Volunteer, join the PTA and whatnot, so the school staff can see you are contributing to the greater good. Involvement in the school community will also help you connect with other parents who may have similar struggles. They may give you advice on how to work the system, what teacher your child will do best with a gifted child, etc.

As for the psycho part- vent to your spouse, your best friend, your private journal (there's no such thing as online privacy and anonymity, so be careful what you blog) so that you can be at your calmest and most rational when talking to the teachers and school staff.

Dear readers, do you have any other advice for J?


Missy said...

J- (and Kim) -

I read a lot of different places that IQ testing isn't optimal because of a variety of reasons (all valid), but THIS letter is exactly why I'm a proponent of it. When you can use the results of an IQ test (and yes, they are very expensive to do privately) to give your self more credit in your (very careful balancing act) quest to advocate for your child, I'm all for it. Knowing our daughter's IQ makes it so much easier to not allow teachers or systems (albeit NICELY and CAREFULLY) assume I'm a crazy, exaggerating mom! I wish you luck. And this was a great post, Kim.

Missy -

Kim Moldofsky said...

Missy- I have mixed feeling about testing and not just about validity, but because parents can't help but react to the scores in some cases. What if the child you thought was so bright only tests in the 90th percentile? Or what if scores indicate they are in the 99.9th percentile. Either way, there is reconciliation process.

Amen to the piece about knowing that you are not just a crazy mom with an overblown sense of your child's abilitiies!

Elizabeth @ TexasEbeth said...

Check with your school district about GT (gifted & talented) testing. They usually schedule them in the spring. At our ISD you can request the testing or the school counselor can as early as kindergarten. If you child qualifies, then being moved into GT classes might work. Doesn't necessarily have anything to do with IQ, just a different way of thinking sometimes qualifies a child too.

Mr.G. said...

Hi there,

Private testing it's worth the money and the effort. It will not only tell you a result based in a proven method but will give you the document you need to go to the school and ask for whatever accommodations your kid needs.

And sometimes, for the same price, you may get notice of some other things you may not even know of your child.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

The hard part about traditional schools is that they canNOT make it fit to every kid. The variables are just to massive. That said, I'd recommend continuing a little homeschooling after hours. Without him knowing, of course. What kid wants to do school twice in one day? But keep his vocab work up at home and have him look at the spelling lists from school as penmanship work. Every boy can use help on that, right?

I understand the gifted boy being bored in class who gets into trouble BECAUSE he's bored. I have no answers (as this was the reason I STARTED homeschooling) but sending J a bunch of support and luck for things to work out!

RL Julia said...

I am with Kim - you are laying groundwork for NEXT year. This what I would do for the rest of the year - meet with the teacher and ask her for an assessment of your son in the classroom specifically asking her for the areas that he feels he need to work on - and then work on those areas. Met with her once or twice a month for updates and leave it at that. You don’t want to get a bad reputation as a needy parent.

In terms of your son being bored- mention to the teacher that sometimes your son finishes his work ahead of time and ask her what she would like him to do - read a book from home? Can he work ahead? Write a story? Talk about his need to be engaged caging it in terms of his integration/ adjusting to a classroom process.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of making friends. Its not necessarily a bad way for him to spend some of his time in school so if he isn't being disruptive I wouldn't worry about it too much - just make sure that he keeps his grades up. Complaining about being bored isn't a compelling argument if the bored person is pulling C's not A’s.

In the meantime, do what Kim says - work the school, volunteer, get to know the other parents and kids in the school. Chances are there are a handful of kids who are at least around your son's academic level (in my experience, these will be the kids your son will gravitate towards being friends with). Find out how they are accommodating their kid's learning differences and what the school has done for them –so you know what to ask for next year.

In defense of the teacher, as much as I think she sounds crabby, you gotta understand that every single parent I have ever come into contact thinks that their kid is brilliant in either some or all ways (unless their kid has an IEP a mile long). From the teacher's standpoint your appearance mid-year with no particular evidence beyond your own intensive experiences is not going to compel her into action. I am not saying that your son isn't gifted - it’s just that she’s heard this all before.

J Sedai said...

Thanks for all the kind words and advice. I have looked into volunteering in the class, and the teacher said parents are too distracting, and she just sends us to the library and the copy room etc. And with 2 other little ones at home (3yr and 1yr) I'm not going to vie with the other moms she already has doing that for her. I had not thought about the PTO (for some reason I always think this group just organizes bake sales etc. and spring pictures, but I'm not actually sure what they do). I think it is time for a meeting of some sort between the teacher and us (in a more formal setting). So that we can start getting something in motion for next school year. Why is it set up to get help so much faster if you child is lagging behind? I remember going to school and being "ahead of the class" my parents and teacher noticed, had a meeting, and at first I was just able to go through the class material "at my own pace" but when that lead to me completing the given curriculum in advance of my peers, they went down the hall and "borrowed" books from the next grade up, I sat in the back/front (where ever I was less distracting to others) of the room and did other work from the class. No gifted program, no hoopla, just different work. I pretty much think this is all my son needs (because like I said he still has the attention span of a normal 7yr old) He just doesn't need to do things more than say 3 times be proficient (and even by the 3rd time he's getting bored). I will also look into what kind of testing our school system has for him. Again thank you for your time.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@elizabeth Testing availability varies. My older son got tested at his school, but when a friend of mine inquired, she was told the school psychologist only had time or resources to test kids who were falling behind.

@Mr. G good points. We eventually had our older son tested privately and the process was so much deeper than what the school provided. We got a very detailed report with recommendations, too. At school all I got was a score sheet!

@Tracey We regularly meet complaints from a certain child with offers to homeschool, but he's never taken us up.

@RLJulia - Good advice and thoughts, always.

@J Good luck!

RL Julia said...

Trust me, the parents whose kids are lagging behind aren't happy with the system either - it takes waaaay too long for those kids to get assessed and serviced too. Basically the system has a hard time with "outliers" of all types.