"...for I have often observed that resignation is never so perfect as when the blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value in our estimation."
The time came, sort of, to have a go at something I've thought about for years now: something extra for the kid.
This desire (on my part) put her squarely, for the first time in her wee little life, in the path of testing. In this case, the entrance test for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a program that appears to consist of testing for testing's sake on the one hand* and some pretty neat-looking distance classes on the other (this is the one I had in mind for her).
The test itself, called the School and College Ability Test (SCAT), is a two-part, timed test measuring verbal and quantitative performance via analogies and mathematical inequalities. For Johns Hopkins' gifted program, applicants take an above-grade version of the test. 2nd graders take the test designed for 3rd-6th graders, and so forth. In order to qualify to take the test a child needs to have already scored in the 95th percentile or above on another standardized test (a parent can sign a waiver if the child is homeschooled and hasn't been tested before, which is what I did).
She's still in 1st grade, and she'd never taken a test in her life, but dragons!Someplace fun to plug in that enormous bookish energy! There didn't seem to be anything but the test fee to lose, so I signed a waiver saying that I thought she'd probably perform well, and picked a date.
I tried to skirt the whole purpose leading up to it: it's just a thing! No big deal! There's a class online I think you'd really enjoy, but they want to make sure it won't be too hard! NO BIGGIE! We'll get a burrito afterward! :D :D :D
But she was up three times the night before, climbing into my bed and tossing and turning for hours. When we arrived at the test center, located in a strip mall 40 minutes away, she was white as a sheet and completely zoned out. As adults entered the closed room with its banks of testing computers partitioned by cubicle walls, the women at the desk instructed them to leave all of their belongings in padlocked lockers in the waiting area, waved a metal detector over their bodies, had them turn out their pockets and lift up their pant legs. I had my girl go pee, try to take a drink, take a deep breath. When she went to sign in, she forgot how to spell her name. At the end it went "...iaiaia."
I should have turned around right there, and taken us all out for lunch. But we'd taken the trip, paid for the test, so, like a jackass, I thought she ought to have a go.
I could see her through the testing window, the lone child in a room full of testing grown-ups, staring at the screen twirling huge hanks of her hair around her hand, laying her head down on the desk in front of the computer, tapping her pencil on her head and looking up at the ceiling. She ran out of time. The two of us signed her out for her 10 minute break, which she spent staring zombie-like into space and only half-hearing me, then we signed her back in for the math. This time she squirmed in her chair, lifted up onto her knees, then stood on the floor, then turned around and draped over the back, twisting side to side. Again, the clock beat her.
We left and got a milkshake.
As I drove home, pondering the extraordinary performance anxiety I'd just witnessed, I felt everything I'd pinned my hopes on for my firstborn's education evaporate. If she can't test, that's it. Game over. No distance classes, no district gifted services in elementary school, no gifted middle school, no...any of it. It broke my heart.
A couple of days later we got the test results. She didn't qualify for the class. But she got really, really close. As a 1st grader, among a cohort of 2nd and 3rd graders that had already scored in the 95th percentile or above on tests at their schools, on a scaled test designed to challenge 3rd-6th graders and cause those 2nd-3rd grade test-acers' scores to spread out, she was in the 60th percentile. And she was thisclose to puking while she took it.
Putting it that way, the whole thing suddenly seemed really funny. Some person in Maryland knows that a child with my daughter's name scored in the 60th percentile on a timed series of analogies and inequalities. They didn't see the seven year-old so wigged out by the idea of a T-E-S-T, no matter how much she was assured it didn't matter to anything but a comparative literature class she might like, that she stayed up half the night and, on the day of, lost her stuff. They also didn't get to see the kid that I have no doubt would tear it up in a comparative literature class about dragons.
The whole thing: gifted education, all of it, lost much of its patina.
We had a really good talk afterward. I came clean about the concept of gifted education, and what that means (and does not mean). We talked about the Johns Hopkins program and how the test works, why they have kids take it, what might be some other ways of making sure kids were ready for the content. We talked about the gifted program in her school district, and the fact that testing for entrance happens soon: only a few short months down the road, in the fall. We talked about test anxiety. I said I was sorry that she had such a stressful experience. And I asked her: do you have any interest in trying to do this stuff?
She does. She wants to take the district's test (two, if she gets that far). She also says she's not going to be terribly disappointed if she doesn't qualify. That's fantastic.
Having had that experience, seeing the gestalt of a testing, tested child, having in hand a number that is essentially useless in its ability to speak to that whole little person and her real capabilities, shamed, humbled and liberated me.
It just doesn't matter that much. A class about dragons, or a day-long pull-out program for high-scoring kids in the district, aren't by definition sparkling, magical learning experiences. She's not going to be one of those kids that really needs to go to college super early or anything. She's homeschooled, which means she can go through math at her own pace, do a bunch of logic puzzles and spend half her day reading.
I think I'd become convinced that by getting services through the district or another institution that someone was going to help me figure out how to deal with her: with the sensitivity, anxiety, sleep troubles. Someone would put her arm around my shoulder and demystify asynchronous development.
Not only is that unrealistic, we're already finding relief and solutions in far more accessible places. She's active and engaged in scouting, trying out cross country running, and loves church, all activities that almost any kid can do, and that stretch her in important ways. She has a gaggle of dear, sweet, bright, strong little friends, book lovers to a girl, none of whom she met in a gifted program. She could certainly use the academic stimulation, but she needs fun, friends, exercise, healthy food, chances to serve, and unwavering parental love even more. No test required.
I'm sorry I put her through that, but I'm actually not sorry it didn't work out well. I'm glad I understand something of the limits of that kind of test and the information it provides. And I'm glad she's willing to have another go, a little down the road. She's not super invested, and neither am I. Everything's in its right place.
*This is an abomination. I had a look at some forums about the SCAT test, and I never. ever. want to be the parent that puts my child through numerous cognitive batteries and posts her full scores on the internet.