Not So Gifted and Talented

Meritocracy100208_1_250 The Junior Meritocracy in New York Magazine questions the validity of IQ testing of four year olds, which are used to determine entrance to the Gifted and Talented schools (via Joanne Jacobs and virago).

G&T programs are a big deal in Manhattan, and I've written about the process a few times before. Not much more to say there. My bottom line is that the G&T system in NYC increases inequality.

The article had some fascinating information about why testing IQs of 4 years is silly. The numbers are just too fluid.

In 2006, David Lohman, a psychologist at the University of Iowa,
co-authored a paper called “Gifted Today but Not Tomorrow?” in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted,
demonstrating just how labile “giftedness” is. It notes that only 45
percent of the kids who scored 130 or above on the Stanford-Binet would
do so on another, similar IQ test at the same point in time. Combine
this with the instability of 4-year-old IQs, and it becomes pretty
clear that judgments about giftedness should be an ongoing affair,
rather than a fateful determination made at one arbitrary moment in
time. I wrote to Lohman and asked what percentage of 4-year-olds who
scored 130 or above would do so again as 17-year-olds. He answered with
a careful regression analysis: about 25 percent.

There are other problems. Parents coach their kids on the test. The article quotes Nicholas Lemann, who says that IQs are also heavily influenced by socio-economic status. Some kids are better test takers, than others. Some just love performing; others don't give a crap.

Four-year-olds, no matter how smart and delightful they may be, have
obvious limits as test takers. Many, especially boys, can’t sit still
for the full duration of an exam; others can’t stay awake or
concentrate for that long, choosing at some catastrophic point to crawl
under their desks and give up. Nor is the context in which these tests
are administered exactly relaxing for young children. Both IQ tests
require that they sit alone in a room with a tester they probably
haven’t seen before. In the case of the WPPSI, the tester often isn’t
allowed to prompt the children to give more complete answers, even if
it’s clear they’re capable of delivering them (and would score better
if they did). In the case of the OLSAT, the testers can’t even repeat
the questions.

I'm resisting the urge to tell some anecdotal stories here. Let's just say that we know of a child named Ethan. And Ethan patiently took a test for a few minutes and scored off the charts on that section. Like 99.9th percentile. But let's just after finishing the first section, he decided he was terrified of the tester, he wanted him mom, and he was scared of the change in the routine, so he spent the rest of the test time running around the conference table and turning the lights on and off in the room. Final IQ score was similar to vegetative material. 

In Outliers, Gladwell discusses research that finds that having a super, high IQ doesn't really mean all the much. It doesn't predict future success or happiness. One does need a certain base level of intelligence, like 120 or something, but after that, it's all gravy.

The author concludes that we should use the Marshmallow Test to predict future outcomes instead.

42 thoughts on “Not So Gifted and Talented

  1. Or maybe we should not predict future outcomes at all and try to discern specific needs and interests of particular children.
    I guess (well, I don’t guess, I know, and I know one of them) there really are some children who have such unusual cognitive ability that they are at serious risk of very bad outcomes in regular schools that are really not set up to deal with them (because social design of the school is so restricted by age group). I doubt most of these kids are ever identified, and certainly they are a very small subclass of so-called G&T.

  2. I very much respect Lohman’s work. The paper that talks about regression to the mean (i.e. extreme scores at 4 not being predictive later) is “Gifted_Today” (available at his site: http://faculty.education.uiowa.edu/dlohman/).
    He’s the author of a commonly used group “IQ” test: the CogAT, so I find it particularly cool that he talks about the benefits and limits of the tests rather than just being a cheerleader about them.
    That being said, I didn’t find the Jacob’s article particularly compelling. Yes, a subset of highly popular schools in NYC use one means of selection (IQ testing of young children) that’s rather variable and identifies a skewed subgroup. It makes the important point that using IQ tests of 4-year olds does not indeed produce a meritocracy. But, neither would any other method of identifying 4-year olds (and IQ testing can’t be worse than many other methods).
    Lohman talks extensively about how to mitigate the variability of the tests, and one of them is to combine the information with observation of the children (which schools generally do, at the interview stage) and to allow entry at other points (to allow for different developmental stages) — the 3rd grade seems to be the entry point of choice.

  3. “…3rd grade seems to be the entry point of choice.”
    But it would be pretty late as the earliest point of entry (or exit from standard education, depending how you want to look at it). A child could be pretty burnt out after 3 or 4 years in the system.
    I believe the end of 4th grade is when German schools do their high stakes testing and divide the kids into various tracks.

  4. My impression of the G&T and other such programs in the New York public schools is that they function primarily as tests of parental commitment to and involvement in the children’s education. That is, if you are willing to fill in all the forms, show up at all the meetings, arrange the appropriate appointments for your children, etc., you can get your child into one of the programs. Parental involvement and commitment, of course, do correlate highly with educational performance, so the program makes sense in operation, even if its purported theoretical underpinnings are flawed.
    I have also noticed that many liberals–and there are lots of them in NYC!–appear to believe that it is more virtuous to manipulate the rules and navigate the bureaucracy to procure what you want at public expense than it would be simply to pay money to private sector actors for the same thing. I think this belief is very strange.

  5. “I have also noticed that many liberals–and there are lots of them in NYC!–appear to believe that it is more virtuous to manipulate the rules and navigate the bureaucracy to procure what you want at public expense than it would be simply to pay money to private sector actors for the same thing. I think this belief is very strange.”
    Yes, I know what you mean. I am a liberal of that class. That game, of trying to grab the best resources for your children in a public system was one that I wasn’t willing to pay, and its why I don’t feel at all guilty about sending my kids to a private school, where I can advocate for what’s best for them, without worrying about how it affects everyone (including the taxpayer). But, I also do what I can to advocate for everyone in the public system (from voting for levies, to knowing about the public system in our community).
    Now, in the “liberals” defense, they do believe that their presence in the system can help everyone (when they advocate for afterschool Spanish classes at their public school, or buy an extra kindergarten teacher, they are making that available to others at their school, some of whom might not be of the same class. There’s no doubt that many of the schools that liberals send their kids to in my neck of the woods are far more diverse than the private school my kids attend.
    My guess is that might be true in NYC, too. Perhaps some of those schools are pretty un-diverse, by NY standards, but they’re probably still more diverse than the privates. Not necessarily, though, ’cause very rich privates can afford to buy diversity. Our school isn’t rich enough for that. But Dalton might be.

  6. That’s funny because I’ve noticed that many conservatives–and there are many in my town–tout the virtues of the private sector and the evils of government but act like pigs at the trough when it comes to using public services provided by taxpayers’ money.

  7. I’m not sure that 4 year olds shouldn’t be tracked at all. No method of determining intelligence works well at that age. Yeah, I know that some schools do the interview method, too. I know some kids who got into Hunter program and their parents told me about the experience. The interview system finds kids who are highly verbal and good performers, not the kids who really need a special education system, because of their unusual ability to absorb information.
    But even the kids who have the unusual ability to absorb information (and I know a few of them) aren’t harmed from being in a mainstream classroom for a few years.
    re: NYC’s gifted and talented schools. Adding to the injustice is the fact that these schools get better teachers and more resources. Every kid, regardless of IQ, should have access to the same quality teachers and the same resources.

  8. “That’s funny because I’ve noticed that many conservatives–and there are many in my town–tout the virtues of the private sector and the evils of government but act like pigs at the trough when it comes to using public services provided by taxpayers’ money.”
    Then perhaps they’re right? I can be pretty eloquent on the danger of keeping several bags of Pepperidge Farm Milanos at home. If you were to catch me polishing one off all by myself, wouldn’t that be just more evidence that I was correct?

  9. “The interview system finds kids who are highly verbal and good performers, not the kids who really need a special education system, because of their unusual ability to absorb information.”
    Remember that study that found that doing a short interview (rather than an in-depth process) actually gave very bad results? I couldn’t find an article specifically on that study, but here’s an interesting looking piece that I skimmed on the problems of bias in interviewing:
    http://www.employment-testing.com/interview_problems.htm

  10. But even the kids who have the unusual ability to absorb information aren’t harmed from being in a mainstream classroom for a few years.
    This is the part I’m not sure about. Take my nephew–on any risk-factors chart, he’s going to by fairly high. (My sister is a single mom, fairly poor, and he’s African-American.) He’s also smart, and was able to read comfortably when he started kindergarten. I’m not sure that being bored out of his skull at school for 2 years is likely to be harmless; it seems to me more likely that he’ll end up, by the time when school gets ahead of him, hating school and being ill-behaved enough to make it hard to get teachers to give him much help.

  11. “I believe the end of 4th grade is when German schools do their high stakes testing and divide the kids into various tracks.”
    It is, and it’s awful awful awful. Germany is the European country (though I forget just now whether that was EU-15, EU-27, OECD Europe or another measure) whose educational outcomes most neatly reproduces students’ social origins.
    Want to solidify class stratification? Adopt German-style tracking.

  12. Put me in the camp of “probably, but who cares?”
    To the extent that the regular “non-G&T” programs can get a kid of moderately high intelligence prepared to get “Big State School” (Cal State, Michigan State, etc.), then they’ve done their jobs. I don’t care if the elite New York schools give some kids an edge up on their Princeton applications.
    To the extent that the regular “non G&T” programs can’t get a kid prepared for Cal State, then the problem is the regular school, and attacking the G&T programs is like attacking the federal deficit by cutting the National Endowment for the Arts.

  13. How does France do? I’m a big fan of “The Class” (Entre les murs), and I came away thinking that their system would be highly self-reproducing. The teacher in that movie is well-intentioned, but has very little idea of how to deal with non-middle class and non-ethnic French students, and it’s clear that his fellow teachers are the same or worse. They just keep pounding square pegs into round holes and wondering why it doesn’t work. It actually made American educational theory look pretty good in comparison, which is quite the feat.

  14. re: NYC’s gifted and talented schools. Adding to the injustice is the fact that these schools get better teachers and more resources. Every kid, regardless of IQ, should have access to the same quality teachers and the same resources.
    See, here’s where I’ve become more realistic about ‘fairness’ in my old age. Positioning it as zero-sum in this way does nothing but drive down standards and wring the middle class out of the system. I will agree that our country’s preference for middle-class students is misguided. But it doesn’t help anyone to set policy such that the middle class simply flees the school district.
    I guess my point here is not that this type of a priori fairness isn’t laudable, coming from good intentions, etc. I’m saying it does not work. Insist that no one get special treatment, and those who were gaming the system to get special treatment will simply leave. (And take their resources with them.) I believe the best you can do is make sure the special treatment doesn’t get too out of hand, and make sure the big pool of people kept in the system contribute to its health overall.
    In any case we’re still just fighting over crumbs. People have to fight for a good slot because there is a shortage of good slots. That’s the real problem.

  15. ” I believe the best you can do is make sure the special treatment doesn’t get too out of hand, and make sure the big pool of people kept in the system contribute to its health overall”
    I’ve come to that conclusion, too. But, I think the question of “too out of hand” is complicated and a moving target, as people adapt to game the system better.
    Does Hunter get more resources? Our public GATE programs do not get more resources. What they get is classes where everyone is performing at or above grade level and none of the students have special needs (and I’m using that not to mean special ed, but any needs out of the average). They may have better teachers, but only to the extent that that environment is more desirable to the teachers.

  16. But it doesn’t help anyone to set policy such that the middle class simply flees the school district.
    jen, I agree with you here, because I don’t foresee our school funding system in Illinois changing anytime soon (property tax based—if the middle class leaves, there isn’t enough base left to maintain the schools). What that trend has meant in my school district is a 64% poverty rate, while the surrounding smaller town districts have a 2% poverty rate (fwiw, the poverty rate at my daughter’s school is over 90%).
    But. The push for “gifted” education here isn’t so much about giftedness. It’s about getting opportunities that won’t be offered in the mainstream district schools (because of the poverty rate). Things like art, music, and foreign language aren’t offered at the elementary level except at the gifted school.
    Also…how options are offered or presented to children differs. In the gifted elementary and middle school, kids get educational and extracurricular activities they can’t get at the regular schools. Well…until next school year, when a new College Prep Academy opens for middle schoolers (and will segue into a high-school program as the kids age up). Unlike the gifted program kids, these kids will have an ultra-strict, military-style dress code (coat and tie), and completely sex-segregated classes (oh for the love of all that’s holy, I could go on for hours on why that’s a bad idea, especially for girls, especially for girls who want to enter male-dominated fields to have no educational contact with males for the seven years preceding college).
    Gifted kids don’t even have the usual middle-school dress code of pants (not jeans) and polo shirt (colors vary by school—there isn’t a “uniform” per se, just….no jeans, and wear certain colors). Gifted kids just wear clean clothes. Gifted kids get to have a mixed-sex classroom that will resemble the workplace of their future. Gifted kids won’t have to listen to lectures on the “purposeful life” (program clearly created from the fundamentalist “purpose-driven life”, with overt mention of Christianity edited out…while still remaining obvious…)
    In short….gifted kids are getting what a lot of children of average intelligence should be and are capable of getting…..but won’t be.

  17. “(program clearly created from the fundamentalist “purpose-driven life”, with overt mention of Christianity edited out…while still remaining obvious…)”
    I’m not super familiar with Rick Warren’s thing, but I suspect that “squishy upwardly-mobile mainstream Evangelical” is a lot closer to the truth than “fundamentalist.” In the US, there’s a large overlap between mainstream Evangelical culture and the worlds of self-improvement and popular psychology.

  18. Well, we are spending $30K plus for my daughter to have those single sex classes–at the same school my wife, the FVP with the $300K plus income, went to–so I really don’t view that as a plot to disadvantage girls. But if you want to send your daughter to a school where the girls aspire to be cheerleaders for the real (i.e., boys’) teams, and to study art while the boys study math, be my guest.

  19. Well timed! My kid is doing the local (not NYC, but a big city) equivalent testing tomorrow. We don’t have any illusions about the reliability of the tests or about the relative brilliance of our child. It’s just a hurdle you have jump over to get a spot in certain (and overall, they are better) schools. Even if you don’t ultimately send your child to one of those schools, the “gifted” notation on his file gets him some special consideration in the district as his academic career progresses. And if my child doesn’t pass, well, at least we took the chance and he got some standardized testing experience. We need a better system, but until there is one, as parents, we’re working this one as best we can.

  20. Thanks for writing that, A82. If we were in the city, I would have held my nose and put my kid in one of those schools. A number of my friends in the city use those schools and they aren’t hypocrites. They are school teachers who couldn’t afford to move to the suburbs like I did. So, maybe I’m the biggest hypocrite of all.

  21. 35%-40% of kids in our district are identified as Gifted sometime between K and 8th grade.
    Make of that what you will.
    (The district focuses relentlessly on ability grouping within classrooms. This is probably less controversial when there are, for example, three G/T clusters out of 5 third-grade classrooms in any given school.)

  22. Our middle son would qualify as gifted. Our state has no programs for g&t in the public schools, so it’s, um, academic. We had to have him tested for private school admission, so I know how he tested in elementary school.
    I will always be grateful that he was placed with the “new” teacher in 1st grade. She had taught in the South, and had taught in gifted programs in the South. She recognized his talents, and pushed the school to allow him to do his own thing during class time. That may have saved him from the alienation so common to the very bright in today’s public schools.
    If I could make a wish to change public education for the better, it would be to require teacher training to include courses in recognizing gifted children, and supplying them with appropriate material. Many of these kids can work on their own at an advanced level, if given the chance. For the very bright, boredom, disengagement, and disdain are very bad habits to develop.

  23. But if you want to send your daughter to a school where the girls aspire to be cheerleaders for the real (i.e., boys’) teams, and to study art while the boys study math, be my guest.
    You’re packing a lot of assumptions into your statement, y81. First off, I’m a journeyman wireman in the IBEW, and the first woman elected to union office in my Local. My daughter has a strong interest in math and science, and will be entering a field that is predominantly male, as I did (fwiw, one percent of electricians nationwide are women).
    It’s not my desire that my daughter learn performative femininity, as you assume. No, even if that were my desire, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen even at gunpoint. What I want her to learn is the socialization she’ll need for success in the all male-or almost-all-male environment she’ll be entering in her future workforce (not my line of work, but with the same demographics). She isn’t going to learn that from her brothers, because she has no brothers. She isn’t going to learn that from her father, because she has no father. She needs to learn that in school, where she’s going to be for forty hours a week or more.
    I think it’s also worth mentioning that the predominant culture in central Illinois is still getting used to the idea of women entering nontraditional lines of work, period. In this atmosphere, sex-segregation will and is (there is a sex-segregated public middle school) reinforcing stereotypes about men’s and women’s abilities and roles. There’s no difference in the test scores, but there is a difference in attitude. Boys attending sex-segregated schools are more likely to agree with Larry Summers when it comes to womens’ biological aptitude for education and work.
    Anecdotally, in my experience of over twenty years in the trades, the men who are accepting of women in my workplace are those who have had the most experience working and studying with women, particularly in nontraditional environments (veterans in particular—lots of experience with women in the nontrad arena, and they’ve usually had female superior officers). The men who are the most hostile? Those who lead a very sex-segregated life, with their only female contacts within their family (or social engagements where it’s traditional to take the wife). The worst are those who went to all-male schools and belong to all-male social clubs.
    And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Integration helps dispel stereotypes. Segregation affirms them.
    And hey, spend all you want to on that environment. Just don’t do it with my tax dollars, that’s all. (same with religion) I’m still not sure whether your mention of all the money you spend and earn was designed to impress me, make me sit down and shut up (“mind your betters, you peasant!”), or what. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that; maybe you assumed I was one of the rich kids.

  24. At least in the NE, I think private girls’ schools tend to turn out very ambitious go-getters. I am not personally familiar with that scene myself, but I would be much more concerned about the cut-throat competition, which seems to be moderated by mixed gender settings. I remember talking to a friend in DC (a cancer researcher) who said that she was still trying to stop being the person she had become in that environment. I talked to another DC woman (a graduate of the Cathedral school and a Carnegie Mellon student) and she said something very similar, mentioning that the Cathedral School had been one of the inspirations for Queen Bees and Wannabes and eventually for Mean Girls (she said her school had suicide attempts and eating disorders among the junior high age girls). Of course, it’s probably somewhat different outside the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
    You also mention uniforms for the non-gifted. My kids go to a rather nice coed private school (probably nearly as nice as y81’s, but only about $6k a year for elementary school) and they have uniforms, although with some flexibility. Although remembering all the rules and figuring out the minimum number of items to get is a headache, the uniform gives me a lot of peace of mind that my daughter will fit in (at least clothing-wise).

  25. I’m in favor of boys’ schools and girls’ schools, at least in the middle school years. In my experience, the coed setting pushes girls to act in a more conventional, “feminine” manner, and boys to act more “macho.” Girls who are tomboys, or boys who are publicly artistic, open themselves up for social bullying from peers. YMMV.
    I now doubt that the adults in a school can change its culture, on this level, for the better. Too much goes on between the children. With electronic media, much of it happens outside of school, entirely beyond the notice or control of teachers and administrators. Adults can and do, though, in my opinion, reinforce the norms the children set.

  26. “Girls who are tomboys, or boys who are publicly artistic, open themselves up for social bullying from peers.”
    I think Catherine Johnson mentioned something like that once over at kitchentablemath.blogspot.com, about how when her son started at a boys’ Jesuit high school in NYC, she noticed a lot of classes and extracurricular activities that boys at coed high schools would generally shun.

  27. A couple of states further south, Amy P. But probably a similar social demographic — maybe with more socioeconomic diversity down here? — with the govt workers replaced by techies.

  28. Amy P, the main reason the public middle schools in my district went to the quasi-uniform outfit (polos and slacks) is to limit the gang signs and behavior problems (like theft of clothing–no one steals khakis or polos out of school lockers during gym, for instance). I don’t consider that a deal-breaker, but it is a PITA and an extra expense (two wardrobes). I understand the argument some parents make about “spending less”, but that’s only for the designer-clothing set. For working-class parents like me, it’s an extra expense because khakis and slacks cost more than jeans, and polo shirts cost more than t-shirts. (not really worried about the fitting-in part; there are three public high schools here, and they are not integrated by social class. She’s going to “fit in” appearance-wise, because everyone she attends school with is in the same demographic economically.) The single-sex classes are a deal breaker for me.
    Here, the dynamic is the polar opposite of what the stranger speaks of, for girls. It’s the mixed-sex classroom where “tomboys” can be themselves.
    It’s not the academics that I think suffer in the single-sex environment. I think the academics are neutral in either environment. It’s the socialization and reinforcement of the pre-existing sexism that I think are the problem. I’m not confident that young men who graduate from such an environment will be accepting of women in the workforce as equals. Also, the type of education that is offered as “single-sex” education in the rarified atmosphere of elite east-coast private schools is miles apart from what goes on in midwestern public schools that are preaching the gospel of “different brains, different teaching methods”, which lo and behold line up neatly with stereotypes. (competitive activities for boys, group hugs and making material “emotionally relevant” for girls…just, ugh.)
    It’s probably also worth mentioning that the parents who self-select for such schools are looking for different outcomes. I have no doubt y81 doesn’t want his daughter to think she’s inferior to males; I know for a fact that many of the parents self-selecting for the single-sex middle school here do firmly believe in “male headship” and want their daughters to be successful, yet not too successful—and really emphasize feminine appearance and demeanor. It’s really two different worlds, even though both are “single sex”.

  29. A lot probably depends on how one defines “gifted.” (a word I hate). Hunter seems to be aiming for the 1% or so on tests of cognitive ability (i.e. IQ tests), accepting only English-speaking, evenly-abled children (they weight all of the parts of the SB-5 equivalently). I haven’t seen data on who tests into the top 1% but I did find a cite once showing that approximately 20% of children of college-educated professionals test into the top 5% on standard IQ tests.
    If you expand the definition of “gifted” — to include, say those achieving at a high level (even though they don’t have high IQ scores), or those who test well on subsets of the IQ tests (say, only on verbal, or only on performance sections), you could easily get 1/2 or more of students in some subpopulations identified.
    Every once in a while, people in NY, or other major urban centers will wonder why 10% test in the top 1% (which, to some, might seem impossible, kind of all the children being above average). But, it does happen, and the answer is simple — the norming samples for the IQ tests are broader than the subset of children who are tested in major urban centers.
    I went to a single sex high school, and then went from there to a practically single sex college — it wasn’t any more, but had been until about 15 years before I got there, and still had a predominantly male population. I thought the ability to mature in a single-sex environment gave me confidence that would have been harder to achieve in coed high school. But, I’m not going to search out the environment for my daughter; it’s not the only consideration. But, if the high school I went to was avaialble, I’d probably send my daughter there (if she didn’t object).

  30. La Labu — I think you’re right that the effect of single-sex education depends on the kind of environment it is. There are all-girl’s high schools who see themselves as training the female power brokers of the future. And, I’m sure, there are all-girls high schools whose goals for the girls are different.
    In a single-sex high school of the type I went to, the benefit is that all roles have to be filled by girls — the athlete, the leader, the mathematician, the scientist (as well as the therapist, coordinator, organizer, pretty girl, drama girl, writer, . . .). The female mathematics star of my high school, a truly intuitive and able mathematician, was also a cheerleader (for the boy schools; yes, it drove us crazy). But, in another environment, could she have been both? or would she have had to choose to be one or the other? And, if forced to choose, which activity would she have given up?

  31. “But, in another environment, could she have been both? or would she have had to choose to be one or the other?”
    I think cheerleading gets a bad rap. When I was in high school in rural Washington, the cheerleaders were disproportionately drawn from the college-track girls. They tended to do other sports as well (track, volleyball, tae kwon do, etc.).

  32. “I went to a single sex high school, and then went from there to a practically single sex college — it wasn’t any more, but had been until about 15 years before I got there, and still had a predominantly male population.”
    Caltech? You don’t have to answer that question, but it’s fun to guess!

  33. Honestly, I don’t want my daughters to go to Caltech because of the ratio. Several of the women in my class never graduated, due to the time they spent entertaining the guys.

  34. And after the visual reminder of how many dogs live around here, I’m very glad we have the “no shoes in the house” rule.

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