Yesterday, while waiting for an oil change at my car dealership I overheard a cell phone conversation between the mom of a second grader and her school’s principal. The mom was inquiring as to why her daughter, who is “very, very smart”, was not asked to be part of the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) which starts in 3rd grade. After all, the mom said multiple times, her daughter is very, very smart.
The mom was quite worked up on the phone. The standardized test (that all second graders are required to take), she said, did not accurately represent her daughter’s abilities- and now- because of this test, she was going to miss out on this important opportunity. I couldn’t hear what the principal was saying in response, but I didn’t envy her position. My father, a former teacher and elementary school administrator, told me that he used to find himself on the receiving end of these phone calls quite often and that they were never fun.
On the other hand, to some degree, I can emphasize with the mom. It is possible that she is right about her very, very smart daughter. Standardized test scores do not tell the whole story. I know several kids who did not score high enough to automatically place into the AAP program but were encouraged by their teachers to go and have done very well.
We live in a very competitive area and there is far more emphasis placed on the AAP program (mostly by a select group of very vocal parents and their very vocal children) than there needs to be. I have been pulled aside in the school hallways and been the recipient of phone calls from moms that I would call acquaintances so they can ask what my children scored on the test, and what percentile they placed in. Several times, I have had parents approach me assuming (for whatever reason) that my children had been accepted and wanting to know if I was going to send them. There is definitely a perceived association of higher status among some parents whose children are part of the AAP program.
You can tell who those parents-mostly moms- are fairly easily because they are the ones that find a way to work into every conversation you have with them that their child is gifted. They are the ones who wear their child’s test score like a designer purse. What’s the point in owning a designer purse if people never see it hanging from your arm? This small, but loud, group of moms need for everyone to know their child is among the smartest.
I, myself, finally found a way to answer these moms when they pry about my own child’s (above average but not gifted) test scores. I say that my daughter did very well and that we are very proud of her. This true statement tends to leave the mom not knowing quite what to say next because I have not given them the specific answer they are looking for and they still lack the information they need to compare my child to theirs- which is really what they want to do, anyway.
Early this week, a boy stood up in my daughter’s second grade class and shared that he was going into the AAP program (which due to space issues is at a neighboring school) for third grade next year. Other kids joined in that they were also going, because (in their words) they are “smart.” The teacher, shut down the conversation without discussion saying that she was sure their parents did not want them discussing this. It was inevitable that some kids ended up going home and inquiring to their parents if they were not “smart” because they were not invited into the AAP program.
Honestly, I’ve heard worse. A few years back there was a mom at our school who told her son he was going into third and a half grade because of how advanced he was. The son shared that little gem with everyone at the bus stop. I’ve also heard of parents who have kids in the AAP program who they say are miserable because of how much work they are expected to do. It’s her son’s own fault for being unhappy, one of these moms was heard saying, he is simply too lazy.
My children are smart. I don’t need for them to take standardized tests for me to know this. I think there was a point where I cared about the test scores and what other people thought about them. That changed when I really took the time to think about all the reasons my very bright children would not benefit from a more competitive, faster paced, homework intensive academic experience, even if it was filled with all sorts of enriching opportunities that they might not get at their current school. My children would be miserable. That is more than enough reason for me to not worry about what other kids are doing or how their test scores compared. After all, if I have no intention of sending them even if they score high enough, then who cares how they score.
I am also well aware that my children’s level of education, success, and happiness that will be achieved in the future are in no way related to whether or not they participate in the AAP program in elementary school (or even middle or high school for that matter).
In fact, while I do tell my kids that they are smart, I don’t spend a lot of time harping on it. I emphasize how hard they work; how kind they are; how much joy they bring to our family; how privileged I am to be their mom. I want them to do well in school but I never want them to define themselves by the grades they receive or the scores they get on some standardized test. I wanted to tell the mom at the car dealership not to worry so much- that her very, very smart daughter was going to be just fine without the AAP program. Maybe she is even better off without it.