My baby!

Sep. 17th, 2013 08:59 pm
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Today Casper left school as a walker, met up with 3 6th grade girls (2 the other girls on her soccer team) and they walked to the public library (about a block away, through a very preppy posh shopping district) and did their homework. Then a parent picked them up and took them to one family's house and fed them, and took them to soccer.

Everything was fine, of course, but we had no contact (not that we were expecting any) from school drop-off at 9am to soccer pick up. I am a little bit like, "My Baby!" and kind of pleased that this was no big deal. Casper said the 6th graders did tend to imply she was a bit of a baby, but she thinks they thought she was only in 4th grade, not 5th. They seem like nice girls.

Dillo, for his part, asked for a spelling test tonight at snack time. Because mr. flea was helping Casper study her spelling words Monday night, and he was all boastful that HE could spell those words. (Which he can. His spelling instincts are pretty good, while hers are abysmal, although he did get caught up with "goat" this afternoon (he tried "gote" and thought that seemed wrong, but couldn't decide what was right so he stopped at chickens.) He's getting gifted testing on Oct. 5 to see if he can get into the gifted program, and I am a little worried. It's a CogAt test, which he had in K and just missed the gifted cutoff (95%ile). But if he doesn't make it this round they also take results from the content-based grade level tests he'll take later this year, and I suspect he will ace those.
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We finally got a school directory. Although this school has Asian students adding some name diversity, as a rule it is much less interesting than our school in Georgia in terms of names. There is ethnic diversity at the school, but little class diversity, so kids of all ethnicities tend to have upper middle class white people names.

Girls: Elle, Ellie, Kyla, Kayla, Chaya, Lila, Lila, Lily, Emma, Amy, Savannah, Vivienne, Danika, Alexandra, Reilly, Delaney, Sena.

Boys: Alexander, James, Elliott, Nicholas, Noah, Charlie, Henry, Owen, Owen, Max, Robert, Robert, Sean, David, David, Jonah, Matthew, Tate, Gabriel, Brayden, Kaden, Rohan (South Asian, not a LOTR fan), Raj, Ajai, Ziyin.

One thing that's interesting to me is that in all of the gifted classes at the school, boys outnumber girls, usually at about the rate seen above in the 4th grade. I know that at extreme outliers males tend to test higher (and lower) than females, but the requirements for the school are only testing in 95%ile, and as far as I know there's no inherent gender disparity in giftedness at that level. But my suspicion is that gifted boys are not as successful in mainstream classrooms, as a result of the way boys and girls are socialized at school and in our culture generally (girls - organized, high achieving, good behavior; boys - disorganized, underachieving, boredom causes disruption). I would guess that of the percentage of kids who are eligible for gifted, more girls than boys are already flourishing in their schools, and parents are reluctant to change something that works, whereas more boys are not doing well in their schools, so when they test into gifted, the parents are open to change.
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Because school doesn't start until 9:15, they do conferences in the early mornings. So we hauled our sorry western-edge-of-the-time-zone asses out of bed at 7am in the full dark, had a mishap involving hot coffee and Dillo's ear, nearly lost mr. flea when he didn't realize we were in the car waiting for him and started wandering off down the street on foot, and got to school at 7:45. (I pointed out that last year, when I was working, we left the house at 7:20 every morning. Nobody believed me.)

Casper led her own teacher conference, following a script she'd prepared as a class exercise. She identified her strength as organization, and a weakness as spelling. She also noted she enjoys and is good at group work. She identified assignments she felt were her best work in all 4 subject areas, and assignments where she felt her performance showed a need for growth. She decided to focus on her math, noting her grade of 100% on a recent homework assignment made her feel good. She said she wanted to work on her basic math facts (i.e. the time tables) so she could succeed on future assignments like that.

Wow! I agreed with almost everything she said. She is doing very well at staying on top of her assignments and being responsible for getting work done, with almost no need for checking by me. I know that this issue is a big one for many 4th graders, and I feel like she's really stepped up in this area. She knows she's weak in spelling and basic math facts, and wants to work on them (!). We'll see how well she follows through, given that she hated the flash card times tables project of the summer and resisted it often.

I also met with all 4 of her teachers, and the school psychologist, last week, about assessment for possible interventions (the required precursor to any formal testing for a learning disability). Her reading teacher did an assessment and reported she was reading at a 3rd grade level. Her math teacher said she was able to do the work and understood concepts, but she was very slow. The teacher was already cutting down the number of problems she was giving Casper for in-class work, to allow her to have a reasonable chance of completing them in the allotted time; the example was she have Casper 3 problems, when some students were doing 20. (Whoa.) The Social Studies teacher, who has the most experience working with gifted kids, and who is Casper's favorite, noted that her test scores on file were very mixed - overall she passes, but she either excels at a section (scores "enrichment") or bombs it (scores "reteach.") They noted that she is compensating for her struggles remarkably well, that she works very hard, that she knows where she has trouble and asks for help, and that she is cheerful about it all, and does not seem to be ashamed. This made me really happy. The next step is some assessment by the school psychologist to try to pin down what exactly are the areas she has trouble with. (I've been doing reading and I am pretty sure she is dyslexic - probably mildly so, and really good at compensating for it. Among the things that make me think this are her troubles with learning to read, especially around inability to sound out words, coupled with problems memorizing times tables, which is a very common symptom of dyslexia apparently.)

Dillo's conference followed a more traditional format. The teacher said he was doing very well, and there were no areas that seemed to challenge him or that he needed to work on. The class is 12 K students and 6 1st graders, but she is mostly teaching at the first grade level. Dillo needs no help, and generally finishes in-class work with extra time, which he is allowed to use reading. She sat a new student next to him because Dillo is good at helping others figure out how to do their work. She mentioned she might start looking to pull some 2nd grade work out for Dillo and a couple of other kids who are at his level. I ran into the paraprofessional for his class yesterday (whom I like and suspect is actually a better teacher than his teacher), and she is working with the top readers, and wants to get them into reading some chapter books at the Magic Treehouse level. (I was in the school library showing her what we have.) He's also doing just fine socially; he's got good classroom behavior down but is friendly with the students and has a friend at every table. She recounted social interactions with the 2 boys Dillo has identified as his two best friends.

As a note about "gifted", Casper, who is pulling low Bs, is reading below grade level, and has other struggles, is the one who tested into gifted. Dillo, who is working well above grade level and has not yet had anything academic challenge him, took the same gifted test Casper did (CogAT) and while he scored high, did not qualify as gifted on the first go-round (they test 'em all in K, and re-test the ones that score high but don't qualify later on.) So there's that. I would like to see Dillo challenged, as I think Casper's struggles have overall been a boon to her, in terms of character development. We're talking about music lessons or sports as a way to introduce the idea of working hard for a result to Dillo, since right now school is not going to be able to provide that.
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We've been trying to get copies of the results of Casper's gifted testing done in Georgia since before spring break. I'll spare the ugly runaround details, but we got them today, and I think her existing scores will be good enough to get her into the [public school] Gifted Academy that's moving to the elementary school a 10-minute walk from our house.

Can I brag? I'll cut-tag it if you are squeamish.

Read more... )
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I guess the only thing worse than no choices is having choices, right?

I went to the open house at the school very close to our house. This fall they will definitely have the Gifted Academy there (3rd-6th) and a neighborhood school Kindergarten. It sounds quite unlikely that they'll offer first grade this fall, as there had been a rumor going around about. That could only maybe happen if they have, say, 35 Kindergarteners sign up, and they could open a second K and make it K-1 if they got 10 1st graders. So this school is unlikely to be a choice for Dillo until fall 2013.

The Gifted Academy, on the other hand, sounds pretty good. The school manager spoke and ran the meeting, and I was impressed by her - she was frank and transparent about uncertainties (it's unclear how things will progress with the neighborhood school because a lot depends on how many people actually enroll). Next year the Gifted Academy will have 2 3rd and 4th classes, and 1 each of 5th and 6th. This means there is still room in 4th, and she implied when I spoke to her personally that there will be for some time to come, so we don't need to sign up immediately. She says the school is diverse ethnically, religiously, and geographically - it currently draws from 25 neighborhood districts in the city, and next year she expects it to draw from 35. The work is project-based. When I spoke to her one on one, I asked what sort of student the school was for - was it for the Hermione Granger types, or the wicked smart but more disorganized and more creative thinker types? She said there were both kinds of kids at the school and suggested I go over and talk to a current parent who has a 3rd grader plus 2 other kids at our current school.

So I did, and was really heartened by what this parent had to say. I re-used my Hermione Granger analogy (that was the kind of gifted kid I was) ad she totally got it, and she said her son was not that type, but he was thriving at Gifted, and they teach to the kids' learning styles. She obviously likes our current school - her other 2 kids are happy there, and she'll be president of the PTA next year - but it was good to hear someone else say that the very traditional pedagogy there is not right for every kid, even every smart kid. (I have been feeling guilty about being unhappy with one of the best schools in the city.)

We're getting Casper's Georgia gifted testing scores faxed over to our current school, and hopefully they will let us see them (they wouldn't fax them to us directly; ah, bureaucracy.) They do Ohio testing April 21, so if Casper's scores won't get her in, we can consider that, if we want to go forward.

I'd still like to go look at the Montessori public school our neighbors go to, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts downtown. Now that my job is, for the moment, over, I hope to have the flexibility to actually go to the schools, although the Open House season for them is basically over, and we might not be able to get spaces for fall 2012. But if one or both of them screams perfection, we might stick with the current school and plan a transfer in fall 2013 for Casper. We might, after everything, stick with the current school anyway. You remember what I said about the paradox of choice?

Dillo, I dunno. He is excelling academically at the current school, and while he isn't Hermione Granger in personality, he does have a really straightforward sort of high intelligence, unlike Casper. Everything academic so far comes easily to him. He hates change, which is an argument for keeping him in the current school. On the other hand, he did really well at his Montessori preschool, and the Montessori elementary might be a good fit. And as far as social atmosphere, the current school's traditionalism does extend to gender roles, and I think that's unhealthy for Dillo. His fundamental nature is beta, but the past 2 years of school social environment seem to have made him act out a lot and his primary emotional reaction to anything is anger. I'd like to see him in a gentler social environment. (In good news, there's a "feeling class" at school that's been started - by external researchers from a local college - about teaching emotional awareness and social skills to K-1 kids, and we got Dillo into it, and it's pretty damned awesome. I hope it helps him.)

Brains

Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:20 am
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It was 3rd quarter teacher conferences this week, and we had a good conversation with Casper's teacher and the Spectrum teacher.  She's really a fascinating creature, Casper is. A mix of things - brave in some ways, fragile in others (we had an awfulizing meltdown Wednesday night), capable of focus and extremely detailed work but often careless in her schoolwork. Spectrum teacher, whom I like a lot, noted that Casper does tend to march to the beat of her own drum, in terms of classwork as well as socially. She's unsure how to negotiate group work, and will sometimes wander off and just start getting things done by herself. When working alone, she is usually quite focused and confident.  Both teachers noted that she tends to approach problems in unusual ways - Mr. H noted that she almost always solves math problems through methods that none of the other kids use, and methods he hasn't explicitly taught, and Spectrum teacher noted the same sort of thing.  This is interesting to me and makes me glad she's in Spectrum where they can appreciate this - I think a lot of "gifted" kids at her school are like I was - wicked smart, precocious verbally and good readers and adept at processing and incorporating new information - whereas Casper in some ways really does "think different," even different from the average smart kid.  This could be a great benefit in her life, if she can turn it to her advantage.

Her reading is going fine - Fast ForWord does seem to be helping.  Mr. H talked about the program a bit - he's actually gone and used the software to see what it is like - and it generates reports that show things I've instinctively known for a long time - that she does often miss common and fairly simple words like when and were. She definitely has trouble with long vowels, too.  The program does some ear training exercises, with different tones, and also promotes focus.  I think there have been definite improvements.  I still worry that neither of the teachers were able to really have a conversation about what Casper struggles with about reading - what is it that makes this hard for her, and how can we specifically target strengthening it?  Spectrum teacher noted that most of the interventions for struggling readers are geared towards kids who are less generally intelligent than Casper is, and who often have other language problems alongside reading problems (Fast ForWord, for example, is especially recommended for kids with auditory processing problems, who often have limited vocabularies and are slow to talk - NOT Casper!!)  I'm almost to the point that I'd like to talk to a reading specialist, who has the background and experience to help me understand and explore what are the factors that make Casper struggle.  But, again, she's doing fine, grade-level work (except most of her Spectrum peers read well above grade level.)

I am having a week of depression and social anxiety, feeling isolated and generally low and anxious.  I cut all my hair off yesterday and didn;t even get much of the usual post-haircut boost that I do (you know, where you spend the rest of the day walking around going "I'm so cute!") It's spring and houses are going on the market and it's the time when Universities are making hires and people are planning moves and changes over the summer, and we have no idea what the plan is for the future.  Well, signing up for summer camp starts today, so I guess we just trundle forward.

Spectrum

Sep. 28th, 2010 06:08 pm
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Casper tested into the Spectrum (gifted) this go-around. mr. flea is very chuffed; I am endeavoring to keep things low-key for Casper. The report, written by the Spectrum teacher We Are Not Impressed With, says she has strengths in verbal, analytical, and motivation areas. (And recommends Accelerated Reading, heh.) The Spectrum Teacher We Think Has Brains is the one who will actually be teaching her.
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We moved the kids into one room this weekend, assembling the bunkbeds for the first time in this house. Bedtime is going okay - still too late. We've started with music at lights out (the Bernstein recording of Peter and the Wolf) which is helping. One problem is mr. flea is reading the crux of Harry Potter IV, and Dillo is bored by it. When he'd done I'd like to try reading to both of them together, whether in bed (chapter books with few pictures) or out on the couch. I think an "extra" birthday present for Casper (turning 7 on Saturday) will be an itty bitty book light so she can look at books after Dillo falls asleep. The other room (Casper's) is the playroom; I'd like to move the yellow futon couch in there for reading and snuggling.

It was Curriculum Night at school last night, so we had a more formal introduction to PreK and 2nd grade. Honestly, because of his home socialization and book-reading and his Montessori daycare, Dillo pretty much has all the skills they seek to instill in PreK: deal with others without hitting or messing with people; understand how books work; know letters and numbers. He accurately read "P E Z" on a pez dispenser last night. His fine motor work is weaker; we need to do more drawing projects, maybe while Casper does homework.

Casper is doing reading in a group with Mrs. H, in another classroom (they mix them up for reading time). She is with Nathaniel, who was in her class last year. She brought home guided reading books for the first time this week, and read them to me okay (reluctantly). Her homework often consists of "read for 30 minutes" and she says she does this at afterschool, but her idea of reading still does not necessarily include actually reading the words in the books. Mr. H, her teacher, said she is doing fine with comprehension and her tendency to guess at words based on context and first letter is a useful skill (this drives me nuts when we read together - I am constantly saying "look at the letters.")

Mrs. U, who is a parent whom I like, is the Spectrum (gifted) teacher for 2nd grade this year, and they are doing recommendations and re-testing this month. mr. flea wants to recommend Casper. You may recall she was tested but narrowly missed the cutoff in K; her increased maturity and test-taking skills (she did fine on the CRCT) should help her this time. I think if it were me I wouldn't bother recommending her again, but mr. flea feels strongly about this.

She's a little down about school right now and I'm not sure why. Complains she doesn't want to go in the morning; told me she doesn't want to do writing and puts her head down on the desk (which Mr. H did not mention.)

After school is still poking along; apparently they are interviewing new directors this week. I signed the kids up for a Spanish class at after school, taught by UGA students, that will start in a couple of weeks and run for a month. No word on Tae Kwan Do, though Casper asks about it. Dillo says after school "takes so long" so I really hope they get a director who does stuff with the kids so they are not so bored..

I called the Girl Scouts last week but they never called me back. Don't they know how hard it is for me to make phone calls, dammit?
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We met with Mrs. B the Spectrum (gifted) teacher yesterday and learned about Casper's testing. They have to score above a certain level in 3 of the 4 areas. They assume the kids will score in Motivation based on teacher recommendations, so that leaves Mental Ability (seems like a plain old IQ test), Achievement (we didn't see this test) and Creativity.

Casper scored in the 99th percentile in Achievement (only 59%ile in reading, not a surprise, but her overall score was 99%ile). In Mental Ability she scored 92%ile (cutoff is 96%ile) and Mrs. B gave her a second test hoping she would qualify on that one, but she got 87%ile (Mrs. B said that one is harder.) These tests are given in small groups, with the teacher reading the directions and the children filling in bubbles in a booklet. I had an IQ test for giftedness in 1st grade and remember taking it - it was one-on-one with a teacher, and there were hands-on things (like fitting shapes together). Mrs. B said spontaneously that for kids as young as K, bubble testing was not the best approach, and hands-on one-on-one would be better.

The Creativity test, which we saw, did not impress me at all. It was a booklet and Casper was asked to make pictures based on already existing lines or blots on the page. This was sent out to be scored. One of the things Mrs. Brown noted was that it was a timed test and you were partly judged on how much you completed (Casper's last section was less than half finished, and looking at it, it was so boring I know why). Casper scored in the 37%ile for creativity. So, the area in which I feel she is most unusual was the one she scored the worst in. I feel like this is pretty clearly a failure of standardized testing to adequately assess ability in this area.

For the future, she can be re-tested next December. Mrs. B has her as a 'Student of Promise' and tells me she has started doing pull-outs for that group on Fridays. The other option to petition her in to Spectrum would be to have her develop a portfolio of work and present it orally to the entire Board of Education, which I feel is pretty obviously not appropriate for her at this age!

Comparing myself to Casper, and mr. flea to Casper, in some ways she seems more like him. Even at a very early age, I was *devoted* to performing well for others, whereas Casper hates to be asked to show off what she can do. I have always found standardized tests of the IQ test and SAT and GRE logic test variety to be easy and even fun. While having the specialized kind of mind that allows one to do well on these tests is an advantage in life in some ways (i.e. I did well, though not stunningly, on the SATs with no prep and no stress), other kinds of mental and social skills that I lack have been a hindrance to me. And some of my "strengths" - like the ability to see what other people want from me and give it to them - while they have resulted in great success at school, have been weaknesses when it comes to other aspects of my life. I think I would be happier if I were less dependent on external motivation for success. mr. flea has actively struggled with standardized testing (though still doing above average), but look who has a PhD and who doesn't!

I'm not sure that Mrs. B sees the conflict between my understanding of gifted (performs well beyond the classwork and *learns differently*) and the state of GA's definition on paper and as it's playing out in Casper's school (which seems to be picking out bright kids from upper-middle class families who test well who might not be so unusual if they were in a classroom full of their socioeconomic peers). I am cynical enough to feel that part of the point of Spectrum in GA is to keep affluent parents of smart kids in the public schools, and not fleeing to private schools. I think this is one reason that Mrs. B is so eager to reassure us that Casper has a good chance of testing into Spectrum in the future (and also she's probably had to deal with angry entitled parents in the past).

So that's gifted. mr. flea is still struggling with his issues; that 87%ile really hit home with him as the way he always tested - at the top of average, but not quite good enough. I hope Casper is too young at this point to feel so judged by the process.
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I've just emailed the gifted teacher at Casper's school to ask for a meeting. We'd like to know more about the tests used, what Casper's scores were, and if her youth (birthday 8/28, K cutoff 9/1, so she is probably the youngest K in the school) is taken into account, as well as more about the gifted program in general. mr. flea is the one pushing on this; I think he feels that his parents didn't push him academically and never expected greatness from him. He was a perennial B+ student and always just missed the cutoff for things like gifted or honors programs, and his parents never made a noise about things. He wants to be better advocate for our kids. I am a little ambivalent but I figure learning more can't hurt, right?

The gifted teacher has a web site with photos of her classes (K isn't up yet, but I learned they have 45-minute pull-outs every day; 90 minutes 1 day a week). The 1st graders are 8 kids: 6 girls and 2 boys, all but 1 white (and the nonwhite child has parents who drive a Mercedes; I know almost all of these kids and their parents). There are 4 first grade classes of ca. 20 kids at the school; first grade is the pioneer year of the upper-middle class families choosing the school. The higher grades at the school as a whole are much smaller (1-2 classes per grade, many nowhere near 20 kids per) and mostly nonwhite. The gifted second graders are 4 kids: 3 boys and 1 girl, all but 1 white (I know only one of the kids). There are no pictures of 3rd grade kids, and the 4th-5th grade is only 2 kids (1 boy, 1 girl, both nonwhite). So, it does look like there is a fair amount of socioeconomic-which-in-this-town-almost-always-includes-racial stratification going on wrt passing the gifted test. As I sort of expected.

not gifted

Mar. 18th, 2009 07:24 pm
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Casper didn't test as gifted, as per the very gently-worded form letter we received (she could have had a bad day! maybe she needs to mature! she still counts as smart! don't be sad - read her some books!).

I'm a bit disappointed, only because from the little I know of the gifted program at her school it's kinda fun-looking, one-on-one or small group attention, they seem to do a little French. (One of the best things about my own education, IMO, was my public school had French for everyone starting in 5th grade. Of the numerous languages I have studied or been extensively exposed to - German, Italian, modern and ancient Greek, and Latin - French is the only one I retain any fluency in, and I stopped studying it when I was 16 and haven't used it in an immersion setting since then. I think everyone should have a second language in elementary school.)

I do worry a bit that Casper can't (or won't) read and seems, in general, very little motivated about school work. Mrs. B, her Pre-K teacher, talked to us about her motivation - the goal with Montessori, as that was, is to develop self-motivated kids. Left to her own devices, Casper would have colored all day, but, you know, she was 4! She seems to enjoy school now, as a whole, but from what I've seen she's often a bit lazy and has to be prodded to do things fully (things other than making elaborate drawings, that is). It is a huge struggle to get her to "read" us a simple book that she usually has memorized, and she hates doing the flash cards of words she supposedly knows, and often guesses at them half-looking (based on initial letter) and gets them wrong. She might be able to struggle through Hop on Pop at this point, but nothing beyond that. And she's known all her letters and sounds for about a year now!

I know that the age of learning to read is variable, and in some countries (Scandinavia and Germany?) children aren't expected to read until 7. I know Casper is smart and creative. But reading is so incredibly cool! It's deeply important to me and to success in life! Why the heck isn't she doing it yet? She's five and a half - am I being silly?

Gifted?

Feb. 5th, 2009 03:43 pm
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Casper came home with a folder from the gifted program at her school. She has been recommended for evaluation by her teacher, and we had to sign a form authorizing their evaluation. I signed it, and we'll see.

I tend to take for granted Casper's strengths, which include being in general very bright and very verbal. She's also pretty creative, a storyteller, good at problem solving in some circumstances (on the other hand, *finding her shoes* is sometimes a challenge). On the couple of occasions she's been in research studies (which I've done for fun and geekiness - I can help science!) the students evaluating her have commented on her intellectual and verbal precocity and level of understanding, and they use standard metrics, so they should know.

On the other hand, she's five and a half and not yet reading (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it doesn't yell "gifted"), and we spent (well, mr. flea spent; I drank) a tearful 45 minutes with her last night practicing her sight-recognition words, most of which she would not or could not recognize. She does fine at her schoolwork, is performing at the expected levels for her grade (which, let's remember, is kindergarten, after all), but doesn't seem especially motivated to excel. She likes drawing and art generally, and likes the science special they have, but her level of motivation isn't shouting "gifted" to me either.

I've read the school district's official materials on the gifted program, and poked around a little at "gifted kid" stuff on the internet, but I don't have a lot of knowledge about gifted programs. I have heard anecdotally that in some districts "gifted" is code for "let's pull out the upper middle class kids from the poor" (often with added racial coding) and since we are in a heavily poor and minority school, and school district, this is a concern to me - I don;t want to play that way. Some of the big web sites on gifted children say you can't define gifted before the age of 8 or so; a lot of what is defined as gifted before then is precocity, and the other kids catch up. I took some IQ tests in elementary school (in a small town in rural Maine) and was sort of treated as a gifted child at school myself; though there was no formal gifted program, I was homeschooled half time one year, basically as a form of enrichment; they thought about skipping me a grade, but didn't, though I did have to learn the times tables really fast when they were talking about it, which sucked; and I did some special pull-out work at times. But once I was in a larger school district of high-achieving parents & kids I wasn't treated differently from anyone else; I don't know if they had a gifted program and I wasn't in it, or if it was just assumed that half the damn school was gifted (my guess would be the latter). So would Casper be gifted if we lived in Lexington, MA? Shouldn't defining gifted be less situational than that?

I guess I am feeling mixed about this. Pleased, but also no big deal, but also skeptical. We'll see, and presumably we'll meet with the gifted coordinator if she indeed tests out gifted.

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