Discussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 5 "The Search For Intelligent Life in Kindergarten"

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. The second week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep. The third week we talked about talking about race with your kids. Last week we talked about why kids lie and how we're inadvertently promoting that. This week we're talking about intelligence testing for preschoolers for school placement purposes.

This week's chapter is called "The Search For Intelligent Life in Kindergarten." Here's my full disclosure: I have a son in the "Gifted and Talented" program at NYC Public Schools and one going into the regular Kindergarten in NYC Public Schools in the fall, so I'm on both sides of this debate.

Bronson and Merryman looked at test scores of kids who were tested the year before Kindergarten (most were 4) to be admitted to "gifted" programs or special private schools. Then they looked at achievement levels of those kids vs. kids in the "regular" classes a few years later. What they found was that there wasn't much correlation to how kids scored when they were little and how they did later on.

The basic takeaways are:

  • Intelligence is fluid and shifting when kids are little, and doesn't start to "settle" until closer to 3rd grade.
  • Test scores for 4-year-olds correlate really highly to family background. The kids who are pepped for the tests, even if it's just by being paid a lot of attention to, are the ones who score highest. (duh.)
  • The kids who turn out to be the smartest later often do not show that in testable ways until they're older, and may be quite uneven. Traditional testing rates a kid who scoes high in one area and low in another as low, but Bronson and Merryman found out that that very unevenness is often a sign that a kid's going to turn out to be really smart.
  • All (yes all) of the creators of the intelligence tests used to place kids in "gifted" programs recommend that they not be used for school placement until 2nd or 3rd grade, as intelligence isn't beginning to settle until then.
  • By testing so early, a lot of the kids who should be in "gifted" classes in 4th grade are missed. And lots of the kids who get in in Kindergarten really can't keep up and should be in classes that go at a better pace for them. The early testing is hurting a huge group of kids by missing the mark seriously.
  • If you like numbers, read this chapter because it has a ton of numbers to prove the point right above this.

I can't say I'm surprised by all of this. I also disagree with "gifted" classes in general, and wish class size could be small enough and the school day planned differently so teachers could differentiate fluidly and it wouldn't be an issue. But that's on the Pigs Fly list, I suppose.

NYC Public Schools just announced that they're going to start the "Gifted" testing of kids at age 3. That's really not that smart, in the face of all this research. Perhaps the people running the NYC DOE G&T program were tested into the administration too early.

Thoughts? Experiences?