Recently, I heard a report on WNYC about New York City’s Gifted and Talented Test. Four-year-olds can take this test to be considered for gifted and talented public school kindergarten classes. Apparently, so many kids are being prepped for these tests that the results now are meaningless. Parents are worrying that helping their children get into these classes may not mean the kids are ready for an accelerated program. Many critique the ethics of gaming the system, particularly the effect on children who cannot afford the specialized test prepping services.
I wonder what type of “gaming” of the system I am engaging in. My son had to take the 4th grade state tests this year. These tests are used to assess teachers, the school, my son, and also studied by the middle school for entry into a 6th grade honors program there. By my own assessment, my son seemed like he would likely do fine on the math but needed some assistance on his writing. His tendency to digress could be seen by test scorers as an ability to develop a coherent line of argument. I started working with him myself. Of course, ever prepared, I immediately sought out various test prep books and writing samples. By the way, I have recently read a study that indicates that parents should not help their children with their homework (but I digress). My attempts at tutoring did not work out for either of us. I became frustrated and every fantastic teaching tool I have as a professor was gone and we were left shouting at each other. I moved then to hire a tutor. The tutor was amazing. He loved meeting her each week, they had a great rapport, and he improved his writing. He took the test a couple of months ago but we will not learn the results until late summer. While I would like him to get a good enough score to be considered for the honors middle program, it’s more important to me that he learned how to write better.
Should I be worried though, that if he does get into an honors program, was it only because of the edge he had with the tutoring? A few months ago, I met another mother at the school whose son was having more serious writing problems than my child. I suggested using our tutor. Her answer surprised me. She said her son was too embarrassed to even consider tutoring. While for me, tutoring was just a form of enrichment, for her family, it was a stigma. I also wonder whether it is her child’s difficulty or her socioeconomic status as working class may have influenced this view.
What about all the children who struggled but did not have access to the resources I have? Have I started a spiral of needing to hire tutors for the remaining years of his education? Does this doom me to be one of those moms “helping” her child write her college paper? My professor self thinks about all those questions but my mom self just wants to be able to help him when I can. I don’t approve of teaching to the test in a theoretical sense but my child lives in the everyday reality that this is an integral part of his schooling. Should I just ignore that? How far should we go to prepare our children?