I remember attending school and always working above grade level yet not quite reaching the elite status of “gifted”. The few kids lucky enough to get those coveted slots attended special classes and received work that actually looked interesting and challenging, while the rest of us were left to our devices. In my case that meant reading books in class to survive the boredom. I love to read, so it really did not bother me as much as it aggravated the teacher. Read in class or read in the office, all the same to me. At least I was not causing trouble acting out in class.

At the time, the gifted program appeared to us kids like the class for all the “super smart kids”. Would little Robbie go to the brainiac class and return the next Einstein? Some of us not included knew we could perform well and were indeed smart, but maybe not the apparent genius level of the others. Those of us left behind probably would not have minded so much if not for the boredom in regular classes.

I left public education for a private accelerated school in 6th grade. Unfortunately for me, I had no choice but to return to public school for years 9-12. The first three years of classes were a repeat of the previous three years. That was fun, believe me. Mostly, I just continued my habit of reading in class. Sometimes fluff like Sweet Valley High (they were at the front of the library so I could easily sweep in, return one and check another out in between each class) while at other times something I brought from home. Once in a while my additional reading pertained to the subject matter of class, most often it did not.

My own children work above grade level, but due to the implementation of No Child Left Behind by Virginia, things are different now. They did not qualify for the gifted program, mostly because the schools seem more focused on the state standards testing and so advanced studies are either too full or not stressed. After all, it does not matter on standards testing if you score above grade level as much as scoring at grade level. It partly led to my eventual removal of the boys from the school system. They can work at their own pace, which is now several grades higher than their peers. According to my exchange student’s 12th grade English teacher, six grades above level. (I’m sorry, Treasure Island is hard for a 12th grader? My sons read it last winter when they were eleven and nine!)

I read an article in a paper this week. He gets this paper every day on the metro and brings it home to me. I enjoy reading the articles and adding it to my daily news addiction fix. Really, can one read enough news?

This article states that many local kids fall into the gifted area. Now, I will admit that the greater DC area appears to hold a high population of intelligent people. I am sure that is largely in part due to the higher education many of our residents have. We are home to more lawyers than any one town could possibly need. Throw into the mix the many scientists, experts in their field, high ranking military officials, alphabet organizations, professors, well… really… I think you see my point. Our government runs out of the city and that involves a lot of well-educated people. However, I am sure that we are not a hotbed for the rising supreme race of geniuses.

The article discusses how gifted now simply means “above grade level”. I wouldn’t have a problem with this except it cites that over 80% of kids in one county tested into this gifted program. Not to mention the other areas in the greater DC region, not all of which found themselves discussed.

Bethesda, MD stated that 87% of second grade students at one school tested eligible to take part in “gifted and talented” classes. Another school says 84% attained the same status. Fairfax, VA has 23 elementary schools for the highly gifted and 27 regular schools that offer higher level of programming. These are students who are testing at “above grade level”. The other students, less than half, fall into the “on grade level” or “below grade level” rungs of the educational ladder.

Nearly nine out of ten students are above average? Almost half the elementary schools are for above average students only? I thought average was the middle ground? Has the government put something into our water to suddenly produce more geniuses per capita? I happen to love conspiracy theories as much as the next gal, but somehow I do not think this is the case.

At one school nine in ten children are above grade level. I think that shows an obvious problem with the standards for said grade level. For four years with Caramon and three with Joram I heard the same thing at my first parent-teacher conference. “It’s still the first grading period, but your son already knows everything he needs to know for this year.” In Ohio, I heard that “Children under the age of five cannot read.” Wish someone had told me that when I was reading at two and a half and before I taught my kids to read. Ooops.

How low are our standards? I thought they were low when I was in school, but it would appear they are even lower now. Is this how no child is left behind? We lower standards in our states so that nine out of ten kids can easily attain it? And if so many students are working above grade level, why don’t we just give them the next grade’s work? In effect skip those students all ahead a grade?

I think there is a dumbing down happening in America, but I did love the following quote and wonder if perhaps it’s not also true. “I wouldn’t say it’s a dumbing down because I’m not sure [instruction] was ever smartened up.” Something to think about.

Just what do you think it says about our educational standards? Are these schools so awesome in their maddog educational skillz and all other schools should take notes and learn from the best? Is the government dumping something into the drinking water to turn the greater DC area children into super smart mini-Einsteins? Are our educational standards so low that kids can score at grade level in their sleep? Is the new trend of red-shirting kids creating this rise in above-average children?

More importantly, how can we meet the needs of so many children and how can we improve the educational system?

–Lady O

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