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    Illinois Association for Gifted Children


DAY Three 

"She Will Run Out of Math at the High School"
One Parent's Story
Written by Newenka DuMont

My daughter was always an excellent student, so it was a unique experience for me in early September some years ago to be called in to the middle school by the new gifted specialist.

“Newenka, your daughter is in the wrong math class,” she said, matter-of-factly.  

“I know,” I responded meekly.  

This was no surprise to me.  I had approached the assistant principal in the spring, before the arrival of a gifted specialist at the school, about putting my daughter into algebra when she started sixth grade. Her response was unequivocal; “We do not allow sixth-graders to take algebra.  They are not ready for it. Besides, if she takes algebra as a sixth-grader she will run out of math at the high school.” What? I pleaded that we could worry about what math she would take as a senior in six years time. Today we just needed to worry about next year.

My pleas fell on deaf ears. So many educators working today take a very dim view of acceleration and the parents who request it. They feel strongly that acceleration is awful for children from a social and emotional standpoint. This has been refuted by ongoing research conducted at the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa both in their original report: A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. And the more recent: A Nation Empowered: A Ten-Year Follow-up to the Important Nation Deceived Report.  But it is still a strongly held belief.

“I have given her the algebra readiness test and she passed with flying colors,” the gifted specialist continued. “The assistant superintendent said I could move her into the eight-grade algebra class, if you will sign this permission form.”  Whoa! Really? Give me that form!

Acceleration is often the most cost effective way to provide an advanced student with the kinds of challenges they crave. Don’t misunderstand, it is not the same as gifted programming and isn’t the right answer in all cases, but can often be quite helpful. And subject acceleration is appropriate for many students! In fact, a Johns Hopkins University Center for Educational Policy study released in September of 2016 - How Can So Many Students Be Invisible? - found that a very large percentage of students (20 – 40% in language arts and 11- 30% in math) are already performing at least a full grade level above their assigned grade!  

“Also, I think we should put her into seventh-grade Spanish, so that she can skip seventh grade, if necessary.”  I knew that was going to be a hard sell given the administration at the school.

Hopefully this will become easier soon! Based upon legislation passed in Illinois this year, the Accelerated Placement Act, all schools must develop and make available an acceleration policy by July of 2018.  This policy must include provisions for many different kinds of acceleration, including subject acceleration, whole grade acceleration, early graduation from high school and early entrance to kindergarten or first grade.

Oh so many years ago I had tried to send my daughter to Kindergarten when she was 16 days too young. She had already met all of the exit criteria for the Kindergarten she was not allowed to attend.  She read fluently and did multiplication as well as addition; she could skip, walk on a balance beam and cut on the dotted line. She was even tall for her age! But during preschool screening when she tossed the beanbag from eight feet she missed the bucket, so off she went for another year of preschool.

This gifted specialist knew her stuff! If my daughter skipped seventh grade, she reasoned, then she would be playing catch up in language arts and Spanish. Science and history were fairly self-contained so she wouldn’t really be behind there. She could play catch up in Spanish this year and in language arts next year. Furthermore, she would get to know some of the students in the seventh grade class who might become her classmates. An excellent plan all around!

Wouldn’t it be great if all gifted students had someone watching out for them and helping plan ahead for their educational needs?  I know we were fortunate. The gifted specialist helped my daughter make productive use of the two half periods that resulted from taking a class with the eighth-graders due to scheduling problems. My daughter spent this time in the library working on a passion pursuit in particle physics.  She studied and read and worked with a mentor and at the end of the year she wrote a 15-page paper on particle physics. The specialist also made sure that my daughter studied for and passed her constitution test, since that is required of all seventh graders.

By the end of the year my daughter was ready for the challenge of eighth grade according to all of her teachers and the gifted specialist and based on her self-assessment.  Now the school administrators were caught in the uncomfortable position of either accelerating her or having to devise a way for her to take geometry at the high school as a seventh grader, which was a challenging proposition given the way the middle school schedule worked. Voila, they elected to support our proposal to skip seventh grade!

It pays to have a longer-range plan!  

The following year my daughter spent the first two periods of the day at the high school taking honors biology and honors geometry.  (Her 8th grade science teacher had read her paper on particle physics and advocated for her to skip ahead in science that year!)  She spent the rest of the day in eighth grade at the middle school. That year she applied to IMSA, the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and was invited to attend as a sophomore the following year.  And as a matter of policy, it is impossible to “run out of math” at IMSA!



Newenka DuMont is the parent of two profoundly gifted daughters who are now in their twenties.  She continues to advocate for gifted children through her role as president of the Chicago Gifted Community Center and her position on the board of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children. Newenka can be reached at NewenkaDuMont@ChicagoGiftedCommunity.org


 

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