Only 8, but Already Deemed Average

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dear Extra Credit:

We have daughters in first and third grades at Haycock Elementary School, which has a "gifted and talented" magnet program. Our third-grader is a good writer but has a little difficulty in math. Still, she works hard, always does her homework without our asking and is well behaved. She also participates in several sports and is a good athlete.

This is the first year that she has made good friends and is gaining self-esteem and self-confidence and finally really feeling comfortable in school and enjoying it. A couple of weeks ago, she was sullen and had trouble sleeping, so I knew something was bothering her. Finally, she told me that her two best friends are going into the GT magnet program. She asked my husband and me questions like, "Why aren't I in GT? Am I stupid? Why aren't I as smart as my friends? Why am I stupid in math?" Well, you get the idea.

It was heartbreaking to see that our 8-year-old child was already being tracked in the "average" group and knows clearly that she is not part of the "smart group" (her words, not ours). Why are these children being tracked at such a young age? How much of this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? It's unbelievable to see the level of pressure from parents to get their children into the GT program. Of course, if our child were in the magnet program, maybe we would be perfectly content with the tracking.

Our first-grade daughter is in a class with several children who came into first grade reading at a high level (two boys read at the seventh-grade level). The school is already pulling out about six to eight kids for a GT program, of which our daughter is not a part. I'm now teaching our 4 1/2 -year-old son to read so he doesn't enter school behind. The amount of pressure and pigeonholing in the school is dumbfounding to my husband and me.

By the way, good for you for advocating that high school students take AP and IB classes. When I entered the ninth grade at McLean High School in 1975, my father marched into the principal's office and demanded that I be placed in the AP English and history classes (I also had not been tracked GT). I will never forget sitting in my AP history class in ninth grade and feeling really good about myself because I was with the "smart" kids. I ultimately received degrees from the University of Virginia (as did my husband) and the University of North Carolina.

Jacqueline Morgan

Haycock Elementary

School parent

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