My Beautiful Wickedness

What do you think?
June 21, 2007, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We’ve kept Kid away from standardized tests because we think that they aren’t a very good measure of the kind of smarts that you need to get you through life. Further, they don’t speak to other issues of honesty, kindness, loyalty, steadfastness, patience…all the things that we hope that she’ll develop that no test can measure. And finally…well, hell, we’re around her a lot. We keep close tabs on her schooling. We can see for ourselves that she’s doing fine.

But this year the school wasted a week or so administering the Iowa Basic Skills Test to her class. We got the results today and…well…I guess we should be over the moon happy. She’s testing in the 99% in everything, with the exception of math computation (which was a 93). She’s just finished up the second grade and she’s at a 7th grade level on everything.

I’ve got complicated feelings about this. I was a smart (unpopular unhappy shy anxious) girl. My parents were always frank with me about my intellectual accomplishments. I knew that I had a 173 IQ in second grade, though I didn’t know what that meant. I knew I was testing well, very well, freakishly well. And it made me feel both disdainful of “stupid mean kids” (to whom I knew I was superior academically) and like an outcast (because even though I had little in the way of social skills, I knew I couldn’t tell anybody without getting kicked about like a schoolyard football). I would have known I was smart without the measurements…I just sometimes think it would have been easier for me to have had it left at that. If it built my self-esteem, it did so by building a wall between me and others.

So here are my questions:

1) In your experience, for all of my readers are above average, did it help or hurt you to know empirically that you were well above average?
2) How did your awareness of your smarts affect your social life? (Kid is very social, though having some problems with impatience when she doesn’t get to do things all her own way or when the other children are doing things that she thinks are dumb (like talking about cable TV shows)…I can foresee this getting worse, as she will start to feel entitled…)
2) Does Kid have a right to know just how smart she is? Is this an ethical issue?

For right now, we’ve told her that we received the scores, that she did very well (HOW WELL? WHAT DID I GET RIGHT? HOW MANY? WHICH QUESTIONS SPECIFICALLY DID I MISS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THEY DON’T GIVE YOU BACK THE QUESTION BOOKLET? HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO LEARN WHAT YOU MISSED?), and that she can feel happy with her performance. This probably won’t be the last conversation. So now I’m just having to think through what’s right for her, since it is too late to parent myself.

I guess I keep returning to the idea that these aren’t very important (except to point out how appallingly bad the “average student” is in American schools.) However, they are so highly ritualized that kids naturally think that they must be important or why would you spend all bloody week on them. And I’d be stupid if I didn’t recognize that in some circles, they are very important. If we have to transfer her to another school at some point, these will be the things that will assure her new school that “this Montessori nonsense” (as a public school teacher of my acquaintance calls it) actually works. It’s gratifying to find out that she has a knack for this kind of testing (some very smart people just don’t do well on these things, for all sorts of physical, mental, and cultural reason) — but she’s a little white kid with bougie parents, pretty much who the test is designed to favor. But…I mean….damn. What difference should it make?


10 Comments so far
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I don’t like standardized tests for many of the reasons you’ve pointed out.

But I’ve always done really well on them. The results would come home in my report card, so I would have a chance to see them. My parents never made a big deal out of it one way or the other. I think I always just figured that “test-taking” was something I was good at, just like some other kid might be good at bowling or soccer or music. Not a big deal. I knew (by high school) that it would help me get a scholarship so I could go to college, but otherwise, I never thought much about it.

All four of my kids also hit the 99th percentile on standardized tests. They’ve always seen the scores when they get sent home. I never made a big deal out of it. They know they are smart, but that’s just one trait out of their personalities. And they also have many privileges that some of their peers have, which no doubt is part of the reason they score so high.

Comment by jo(e)

Yeah, maybe I’m being stupid about this. It’s such a minor part of her overall academic life and to spend much time hand-wringing over it is conceding it undue importance.

I think class position is important here too. I knew, as a child, that my parents would have great difficulty paying for a college education and that I might be able to win enough money to get the golden ticket if I tested well. Kid has no such worries — we’re both professors and she figures that she will be able to go to college somewhere. So maybe it seemed more important to me and to my parents because it really was.

Comment by bridgett

I found out at age 14 that I had a high IQ, and I was convinced that it meant my life would be all roses and unicorns. It took many years to discover that there is not a whole lot of connection between high IQ and actual smarts.
Socially, I was kind of a nerd anyway, and I am sure that being convinced I was “special” did not help matters. But if your child is driving you crazy to see her scores, I guess you might as well show them to her. She’ll find out one way or another!

Comment by RockyCat

My parents never told us our IQs. We could see our test scores if we wanted, but my parents went to great lengths to make them seem unimportant, just something the school had to do to make sure that everything was on track with my education, not something about how smart I was.

Comment by Aunt B.

Well, I let her look at her scores (stapled to her assessment report — they don’t get grades, they get a detailed listing of the work that they did and the level at which they are currently engaging that work). After several minutes of puzzled silence and poring over it, she walked off. I asked her if she had any questions…and yes, there was a ton of questions. So we interpreted the results together. She seemed much more annoyed that they didn’t give her the questions she’d gotten wrong so that she could figure them out and correct her mistakes than she was interested in her overall scores. She was sort of baffled at her percentile score. I don’t know whether that means it’s higher than she thought it would be or should be or whether the whole idea of a national test for second graders seems a little crazy to her.

We haven’t ever had her IQ tested…she can do that herself if she ever feels the need, but that score in particular was something that I could have lived nicely without ever knowing and as RockyCat notes, a high IQ and $3 gets you a small latte at Starbucks. And a shove into the locker.

Hey, I’m going to blog about why I was so heavily tested as a kid, because it occurs to me that not everyone had the brain-battering experience that I did.

Comment by bridgett

I don’t seem to recall you mentioning all of the tests before. I’d be interested.

I only remember taking one major standardized test prior to high school. It was some deal in Michigan – I have no idea what test it was – and I think I did well, or at least that was the sense I got from my parents. I remember that once I moved to NC we had some kind of tiered reading program in our English classes (it was divided up by colors) and I was the only person in the class who was reading the “gold” stuff instead of the “red” – or something. I’m not sure whether I was socially ostracized because of my grades or because I had committed the unforgivable sin of being a “Yankee”. Probably both.

As a non-parent with no standing to speak on this subject at all, my guess is that Kid will probably put as much weight on this as you do. I think you are already doing the right thing – letting her figure out for herself what all of this means to her. She’s got good parents, so it’ll all be cool.

Chill, mom 😉

Comment by Gerald

I’m just going to say how profoundly grateful I am that I grew up when/where I did. I hear stories about smart kids being unpopular, and I cringe. Where I was in school, being smart made you popular, at least with the majority of the other kids. Being on the football team also made you popular, of course; we weren’t that removed from the real world. Not that I was popular myself (although smart), but that was for other reasons.

I would say, though, that it’s actually helpful for very smart kids to have an objective measurement of just how smart they are and aren’t. It can have a very grounding effect: yes, your feeling that you did better at A than at B is justified, you’re a good judge of that; yes, you had more fun on this part of the exam than on that other part because you were actually figuring out new stuff while you answered the questions. And if your daughter is so into the whole question of how she did, a “here’s what the numbers are” can be a big help.

Comment by nm

My experience is offset by my impairments…so I figure it wouldn’t really apply.

I had never tested my IQ until last year (148).

My parents always told me I was very bright, when they were dragged into atypically warm teacher conferences
where my teachers slopped all sorts of appreciative comments on my parents.

I had the difficulty of being taught by teachers who had taught my mother “Oh, you’re ******’s daughter….(beat) I expect great things of you.”

Except maths which never grew above the 53’rd percentile… I think my lack of spatial relations skills comes from my impairment and played into that, so I couldn’t get all bunched up about the fact that math and chemisty were trackless black forests while literature, language and history were frighteningly easy until grad school.

It was all…”I know math…how can a daughter of mine get 98% percentiles in comprehension and 53rd percentiles in math?”

I did actually crow about my brains a bit, because that offset the “Retard” remarks I got about the disability.

I got tripped instead of slammed into lockers, and some of it was due to my giftedness, but most of it was to “make the crip cry,” so I figured I’d better be clear and loud about what I *was* good at…

But, bridgett, after this long digression…I would say I agree that telling her her actual scores could wait until she’s absolutely adamant about knowing.

Comment by imfunny2

Well, you know me, so I probably don’t have to say this, but: high IQ is just a party trick if there’s nothing more to it. Intelligence needs ambition if it’s actually to end up *meaning* anything.

Penn Jillette says that one of his favorite people *ever* is Phyllis Diller, who is not only a brilliant comedian (doesn’t “comedienne” make you cringe?), but also a great singer and artist and, seemingly, good at everything to which she puts her hand. He asked her what her secret is, and she said, “If you try to do something at it and you’re not *immediately* good at it, then stop and try something else.”

Well, there’s something to that…but I’m a tribute to that sort of thinking, and you can tell by me that it’s maybe necessary, but definitely not sufficient. Everything I’ve ever stuck with, I’ve been good at right off the bat…but I’m still not much. I’m good. I’m useful. I’m even entertaining, maybe…but I haven’t got any of those Nobel Prizes for which some had hoped: no ambition. I just didn’t want them.

So intelligence is nice–it sure helps a lot!–but as Kid does things that she finds easy and pleasant, make sure that she keeps at them until they become difficult and pleasant. *That’s* ambition, and that’s what really matters.

As for telling Kid her scores: the numbers don’t matter. I knew what my IQ was; didn’t matter. One’s IQ is like one’s weight or one’s wealth or any other metric: the less you know about it, the happier you probably can be, because once THE NUMBER dominates the landscape, it has a chance to loom and hover and judge–it’s never the right size in relation to you, and you chase the number rather than the goal on which you *should* be focusing. Or, worse, the number chases *you*. Either way, it’s better not to know.

Let Kid find out what she is and what she can do; don’t let any numbers wreck and ossify those mysteries for her. The journey is the reward; make sure that she takes it.

Comment by John Gruver

The Diller philosophy is a good one insofar as maybe it pays to build on your strengths, but as you say, you have to be willing to work. Kid has a friend who is a good dancer. This year, she quit dancing because she didn’t move up in her award level at competition. She apparently tuned out the idea that she was dancing at a more competitive place, at a more challenging solo, with a greater degree of difficulty. She concluded she’d hit her own talent ceiling. I tried to gently suggest to her and her parents that maybe all that was required was a little more effort (fifteen minutes’ more practice a day, maybe), but no dice.

The only thing that letting her sit down and ponder her scores has done for her so far is to prompt her to ask how one calculates an average. Luckily, she likes to do division problems, so we measured things and calculated averages all day long yesterday…

Comment by bridgett

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