Parent's Perspective

Race-to-the-Middle and the Twice-ignored Child

By Patricia Seres

May, 2013

Articles and books written in response to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislative focus and funding of public education decried how it has left behind the brightest children in America. Then the combination of the Great Recession budget reductions, along with the research theories suggesting our country was falling behind academically, resulted in a government initiative called “Race-to-the-Top” (R2T). The dual focus of R2T is on grade-level standard achievement testing and on “closing the achievement gap.” R2T, as well, has failed to address the high-IQ child, often referred to as gifted. Furthermore, R2T’s focus on high-stakes standardized testing with rigor in grade-level curriculum, and its lack of emphasis on best-practice instruction for divergent learners, now leaves the twice-exceptional (2e) child twice ignored.

The 2e child is a minority within a minority. With estimates placing the number of intellectually gifted children at anywhere from 2 to 6 percent of the student population, twice-exceptional children are an even smaller percentage. Though these children show great potential and can be extremely successful, with proper best-practice interventions and supports, they are often misunderstood by both general education and special education staff. Their varying exceptionalities, beyond the high IQ and its accompanying characteristics, include everything from dyslexia, to having a visual-spatial learning style, to being a creative-thinker or a hands-on learner, to having high-functioning autism, to having ADHD. Each exceptionality has its own very specific needs beyond the standard curriculum.

Now, not only have gifted classrooms and curriculum been cut, but special education budgets have been reduced, squeezing all into a middle standard that provides little or no appropriately differentiated instruction or measurements of knowledge for 2e children’s giftedness or for the specific nature of their disability or learning difference. With no best-practice emphasis for gifted education and no best-practice emphasis for learning disabilities or learning differences, the 2e child has both exceptionalities ignored. In implementation, the result is both intellectual and emotional abuse to the 2e child and extreme frustration for the parents.

With comments from school staff ranging from “This is PUBLIC education,” to “We can’t serve ALL children,” and “FAPE means free public education for your child, not the BEST education,” parents are left on their own to figure out appropriate strategies. That may mean paying for private interventions if they can find (and afford) them, hiring tutors to keep a child afloat in a contrary educational system, and fighting a bureaucracy that seems intent on destroying rather than nurturing their child’s potential.

For parents, knowing of their 2e children’s intellectual brilliance, sensitivities, creativity, and motivation to learn and succeed, and then watching them come home in tears due to being simultaneously bored and overwhelmed, is heart-wrenching. For the children, working hard, doing the mounds of inappropriately designed grade-level work, and then getting a D because the measurements are poorly designed for them leaves these children asking “Why even bother?” and feeling like “No matter how hard I try, I’m going to fail.”

Parents are then left to wonder: Why is my child not considered part of the “public” of public education? Why is it that my child is excluded from “ALL”? Why are only the middle-average students given an appropriate education and opportunity to reach their potential, and why does Race- to-the-top only serve them?

Even for the high-IQ child with no other exceptionality, the standard achievement focus is a poor match. I see many gifted children losing interest in school due to an overabundance of grade-level busywork that lacks intellectual challenge and an onslaught of assessments that are poor measurements of knowledge. I hear the ever-enlightening words of children who say, “They’re just making it harder, not more interesting,” and “There’s nothing to go to school for any longer. It’s just tests and more tests.”

My fear is that the slim school budgets and high-stakes testing in our county have reduced our local schools to standard test centers, with few opportunities for creative thinking or hands-on learning. Our prior gifted-contained classrooms are now places filled with grade-level “rigor” where high-IQ students have few peers. When gifted services were eliminated post-recession, in spite of the rules in my state requiring them, our school officials said, “We plan to mainstream the gifted children in groups of three to five to raise the bar for high achievers,” and “We plan to level the playing field to require high-IQ students to qualify for advanced classes based on annual state test scores,” with no recognition of learning need. We also heard quotes like “Just because a child has a high IQ doesn’t mean the child is gifted,” and “Gifted education is elitist.”

Twice as discouraging for the 2e child, whose disability (rather than strengths) seems to be the primary focus, teachers have their hands tied to the test. We have intellectually gifted dyslexic children with an aptitude for higher-level math concepts removed from advanced math classes, based strictly on an annual standard test score of word problems written to confuse. Imagine pushing Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs, all gifted dyslexics, out of advanced STEM classes, to make room for a child with an average IQ who does well with rote memory and performs well on grade-level standard tests. That’s what we are seeing currently in our district, yet this is precisely the wrong direction if our country truly wishes to increase innovative problem-solving and creativity. Referencing Rebecca Mann’s article on “Gifted Children with Spatial Strengths and Sequential Weaknesses,” we are pushing out the very children who could raise our country’s math achievements and innovation if they were served well with both a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) as well as appropriate measurements.

My experiences have led me to believe that the good intentions of R2T are being lost in implementation, and that we are “losing our minds,” as much as we were with NCLB. I see us leaving behind our high-IQ divergent thinkers and our twice-exceptional children. The result is a lost generation of brilliance, creativity, and innovation. We are losing the ones with the natural strengths to innovate and think outside the box — creatively and across disciplines. We are losing the ones who, according to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, have the strengths needed for the next generation of careers — the ones that many of our public schools are refusing to serve appropriately and, in many cases, are pushing out of their doors. I firmly believe that nothing that has the word standardized, or common, or core is going to be positive for divergent learners or for those who are not statistically “standard.”

Patricia SeresPatricia Seres is a parent of two gifted children, one who is gifted with dyslexia. She is also a board member of a state gifted advocacy group and is active in advocacy for dyslexic students. She is a former television and advertising executive, with a degree in theology, and currently resides in Saint Augustine, Florida.

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