TWO PORTRAITS OF FELLOW

Many of you have asked how Fellow's adjustment to first grade at a new school is going, and the answer is about as well as can be expected. Two snapshots:

1. Fellow had been telling us how he was playing dodge ball in the school playground after school with "big boys" and how he "never got thrown out. For real, for real." Well, we took one of our paternity leave days a couple of weeks back, picked up Fellow, and watched him play after school. And he was indeed playing dodge ball with the big kids -- they just didn't know it. He lingered on the periphery of the game, and when a ball was thrown out of bounds, he raced to scoop it up, threw it back in the game, and went on being ignored. Meanwhile, some of his new first-grade classmates played together in a corner of the yard, but Fellow was too shy to join in. It was exactly like an episode of "Quantum Leap," if Fellow was the star, and he leaped back into our own body in 1975. Truly remarkable. And then -- a first-grade boy, small in stature but a giant to us, walked across the playground, tapped Fellow on the shoulder and invited him to join his classmates in their play. And he did.

2. So, socially, it's going to take a while. As we walked to school the other day, we encouraged Fellow to sign up for chess class at his school because, as we told him, if he became a better player, he could join the school chess team in third grade. At which point he looked up at us,  calmly and matter-of-factly, and said, "Well, I don't really need to. I'm going back to Big City Elementary next year." He's mentioned this plan to us a few times, actually, in the middle of conversations in which he tells us, "First grade is fun," so we haven't been responding one way or the other. But there are reasons we've put him in the class he's in: His homework the other night was to copy a picture of a boy and label his body parts - a list of parts was provided, but the assignment said he could add more. As he worked, he looked up at us and said, "There's more body parts than this! What are they talking about?" And he bolted out of his chair and into his room, where he grabbed his "The Human Body" reference book, found a picture with callouts of body parts, and added lungs, kidneys, etc., to the page. And that's just what we were looking for.

HOW WILL YOUR TINY GIRL RATE?

As Manhattan readers probably already know, New York City has begun to unveil its plans for Gifted and Talented placement for the 2007-08 school year -- and Tiny Girl will be in the mix as a kindergarten applicant. For the third year in a row, the city's testing process has changed. The goal, according to administrators, is to standardize the process by requiring all districts to use the exact same measurements in the same way (give or take; see below). This year, the city will apparently not accept Stanford-Binet (IQ) test scores -- it remains to be seen if Hunter College Elementary applicants will be allowed to apply scores from the Hunter S-B tests to G&T applications, but it sure sounds like they won't -- and instead will employ the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat. (You can look at a brochure about the test here.)

The big news, and the bad news, is that the city will be using Otis-Lennon in combination with the wildly subjective Gifted Ratings Scale, a test in which individual teachers, public and private, evaluate children basically however they see fit. There were widespread reports a year ago that teachers in different locations, even within the same building, used widely varying standards to score the GRS, and complaints that the format of the test was fundamentally flawed. For example, a teacher could be asked to evaluate a child's creative aptitude by answering a questi0n like, Given a choice of different activities, how likely is the child to choose to create artwork? Well, the chances could be pretty slim if the kid loves going to the block area with his three best friends every day. Does that mean he lacks the fine motor skills to paint a delightful tree-sun-house-Mom-and-Dad scene? Not in the least. But he's going to get a very low score on creativity nevertheless. Most disturbingly, as the New York Sun reported earlier this year, there have been reports that the city has threatened (certain) nursery and preschools (for example, the JCC of Manhattan) not to send them a class full of kids with top GRS scores, as it could lead the Dept. of Ed. to punish all of the school's young applicants.

The Sun and the Times both reported on the announcement of the new G&T testing format yesterday, both acknowledging the concerns many parents and educators have with the GRS. So how important will those GRS scores be to your child's application package?

From the Times report (emphasis and brackets added):

City education officials said that Harcourt [its testing vendor] had proposed that schools give two-thirds weight to [Otis-Lennon] and one-third to [GRS] in admissions decisions, but that the details remained to be worked out.

Dona Matthews, the director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education at Hunter College, called the Olsat “a good, tried and true test.”

“It has been around for a long time and has solid reliability and validity,” she said, “and it is tied to school success.”

But while she praised the city’s Education Department for using multiple criteria for admissions, Ms. Matthews said she had some reservations about the G.R.S. because of the possibility of inconsistency.

“Teachers vary tremendously in how good they are in making this sort of assessment,” she said. “A lot of highly gifted kids are not teacher pleasers. Teachers don’t like them, and they don’t necessarily give them good ratings on scales like that.” . . . .

City education officials said the new admissions process would have controls built in so that any large discrepancy between the test score and the classroom rating would generate additional examination.

The Dept. of Ed. has promised to reveal more when the application process begins later in October, but other critical questions have yet to be answered, such as: Will students living in a school's catchment (neighborhood) have preference in admissions to its G&T program? (From the sound of it, the answer appears to be no.) And, will siblings of students already in G&T programs have preference over other applicants? (Remains to be seen, although the Times article indicates that the city is inclined to rank all applicants in a district by their percentile scores, as they did a year ago, which would indicate that siblings will not get preference, although there was such outcry a year ago when the city dropped sibling preference that that may yet change.)

We'll keep you posted, and we welcome any updates from readers who have found out more than we have.

September 27, 2006 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS

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