All I know is that one day my thirteen-year-old daughter was considered gifted in Washington State, and the next day we moved to Florida and she wasn't gifted anymore.
In order to help her access the support services that I hoped Florida had for her, that might help her focus her energies and settle into the new educational system with the support she needed, I set about trying to figure out the process for getting her evaluated for gifted services. Little did I know, I was setting us all up for failure. First, because the Florida gifted identification rule is archaic and ridiculous (requiring a high score on an IQ test, above all else), and secondly, because I was dealing with a gifted thirteen-year-old, which meant everything was going to be a struggle, anyway.
"I'm filling out the papers to get you gifted services at your new school," I told her.
"Don't bother," she said. "I don't want those classes."
"It's not about the classes, it's about making sure your teachers can support your needs," I insisted.
"They can't," she said, then she left the room. A typically-long conversation, (if you don't count the tantrums she threw once in a while when I told her she couldn't do something she wanted to do...)
So, I turned in the forms at the school anyway, and waited. And I naively figured that the copy of all her test scores from Washington State and her proof of gifted services there, would show the gifted education department that she was qualified. But no, they called and told me it was the state law that she had to be tested. She had to do an IQ test. Her old test scores were too old and not the right kinds.
"You have to take an IQ test this week," I told her that morning.
"No," she said, with her pleasant and cheerful morning self.... (I'm being generous, I don't think she even did more than a real grunt.)
"Yes, they said it's the law for identifying gifted kids here. So, they are going to call you in to the office to take the test sometime this week."
"It better not be during lunch. That's the only time that school doesn't suck," she said, this time in English instead of grunts.
"Maybe you would be happier at school if you got gifted services. Remember all the nice kids you met in Washington when you were in the gifted program? You said they were interesting and fun, and that you loved those teachers and those classes..."
She stared at me like I was dumb. "Florida gifted classes are for weird kids. And they still suck. All the people I know who took gifted classes here before, told me you just have more homework. That you work faster and you still hate school. So, they all dropped out and aren't gifted anymore either."
"I don't know why you won't just give it a chance. Just go do the best you can on the test and then at least you can decide later about the classes," I said. And for some reason, I thought that conversation solved it, and she would take the test.
I was right, on one hand... She did take the test. However, I got an interesting phone call-
"Yes, this is."
"This is (so and so) from the school, and I tested your daughter, Miranda today for the gifted program," the lady's voice sounded a little strained, like she had bad news.
"Yes, thank you for doing that," I replied.
"Well, she did not score very high," she told me.
"That's odd," I said, "what happened?"
"Funny you should phrase it that way," she paused, "because she was doing well at first, but when the lunch bell rang, she started answering each question with only one word."
"One word?" I didn't really understand her statement. Was one word answers an issue? What if they were right answers? Maybe that lady didn't understand gifted kids...
"Yes, one word," she said firmly, "Your daughter would only say the word helicopter."
I almost laughed out loud, and then remembered how I had insisted Miranda do her best. Apparently, she won this round- she said she would not do the test during lunch. She made her point.
"So, she started answering everything with the word helicopter, and you continued to test her? You actually scored that test?" I was amazed.
"Yes, ma'am, I did complete it because we have to test a lot of students and I'm required to get a score for each. If you disagree with the score, you can have her re-tested."
I was even more amazed. "What was the score, may I ask? The score for the amazing helicopter student?"
The lady seemed to fumble with a piece of paper, and then said, "she received a 90. The passing score for the gifted program is 130. She is in the bottom of the normal range for IQ scores. I'm very sorry she did not qualify."
I started laughing at that point. I managed as best I could to thank her, and let her know I did expect we would re-test her. But I was amazed anyone would bother scoring that test. I couldn't wait to talk with little miss Miranda that afternoon.
When she walked in the door, I was waiting. "I got your gifted test results," I told her.
She almost smiled. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "They said you may qualify for special classes after all."
"Are you serious?" She choked. "I didn't think they would actually score that test."
I nodded solemnly. "They did, and your score was so low that they said you are at the bottom of the normal range, and I think with your other achievement score data it shows a huge gap, which likely qualifies you for special education classes. I will be going to the school to find out what services you need. I'm very sorry I've been so unaware of the challenges you've been dealing with all these years."
"What?!" She almost screamed. "I don't need special education classes! Mom, really, I don't. I just didn't want to take the dumb test! I stopped doing a good job halfway through. They were making me stay in for lunch!"
I couldn't keep a straight face. It felt somehow satisfying to see her get worried. "What were you thinking?" I asked, trying to keep my own composure. "Now they think you are not only NOT in need of gifted classes, but that you are even less bright than your peers. That makes me look silly for insisting you need gifted services." I stared at her face, with her mouth dropped open and a look of horror on her face. "Look, I don't care if you get the label of gifted. I don't even care what classes you take. But I do want you to have the social emotional support and teachers who understand you that gifted labels are supposed to come with. And if you won't take that dumb test, I can't help you access those things."
She closed her mouth and the. shrugged her shoulders, "I'm fine, Mom. Really. And I refuse to be labeled with anything that makes my friends think I'm weird. You can keep making me take that test, and I will keep bombing it. Just let me do regular classes, please."
I spent more weeks bugging her about taking the test, and at one point I even had the evaluator try testing her again. Her score came up to a little above 100, but again, the tester admitted she could tell Miranda was not trying to give good answers. She wanted to go back to class. She said she didn't want to be gifted anymore.
My child who had formally maxed out every achievement test, including the CogAt and other gifted screeners, and who had been in gifted education classes, including a full time gifted classroom for several of her elementary school years, was now in the general education pool and she insisted on staying there. She had no social emotional support, and she struggled almost daily with clashes with other students and even teachers. Her chaos at school spilled over into our home life, and we had huge yelling fits from her when she refused to do her "boring" and "stupid" school work. Her teachers called us often, to tell us how she was argumentative in class, and how she was hanging out with kids who were trouble. And she even ran away a few times to hang out with boys she wasn't allowed to be with. We spent her entire teen years in crisis, even as she consistently achieved on tests and even was able to eventually access some accelerated content. She failed PE because she refused to dress down, and we had phone calls constantly about her attitude. She still consistently told me how dumb I was for wanting her to get more support for all the things that made her feel the need to fight within herself and to fight with everyone else. But she insisted she knew what was best, and that she didn't need our help.
We moved back to Washington where she was immediately placed in gifted education and high level classes and we watched her start to achieve again. She had a support network around her and she soared. She ran for student government and won, she started clubs about anti-bullying, and she had tons of friends who also were doing amazing things. She was placed in the dual enrollment (Running Start) program, and she graduated from high school with almost two years of college credits. It was like I had a totally different child.
I have since raised all of my four kids, and what I learned from raising Miranda, specifically, was that you can't force teens to do much and so it is very important that we establish whatever support systems our kids need, way before they are thirteen years old. Early gifted identification is critical, so our kids can be surrounded with support from a young age and when they hit those middle school and teen years, they have a network of people to help them, and they have more understanding of what they need.
It's also critical that we not make children "prove" they are gifted once they have been identified. Giftedness does not wear off or wash out like sand after a day at the beach. It is who these kids are, and how they think and process information. And it is what makes them even harder to identify through testing as they get more independent and less likely to do what we say. By allowing Miranda to keep her gifted label in Washington, we were able to enroll her in classes without the topic of her giftedness being more than a guide for the district- she was given classes with gifted trained educators, but she wasn't forced to decide if she needed them. It was never a topic of any arguments, and she loved those classes, mostly due to the teachers understanding her and not making everything a power struggle. They worked with the gifted kids, and did not make them into delinquents because they didn't understand giftedness.
I can't go back and find better ways to get Miranda support as a middle schooler now. Luckily, she is an amazing twenty-one year old now with her own family and is doing well in her career. But I was able to do something that hopefully will help other kids like her- I returned to Florida after a while, and I was hired to be the Florida gifted education specialist for the Florida Department of Education, where I worked with the special education office to amend the rule that required my little Miranda and others like her, to be re-tested when they came into the state.
Now, whenever a student comes into Florida and has proof of gifted identification in another state, they are automatically assumed to be gifted here. They don't have to submit to testing that makes them question their giftedness; they don't have to miss lunch; and they can be put in appropriate classes immediately, rather than being put in with students and teachers who may not understand or support their need for gifted services. Essentially, in other words, not making it a choice, but making it a normal occurrence at the beginning of their course selections, taking the power struggle with the schools and even the students, like Miranda, out of the equation.
We have tons of students who enter our state each year who come from other gifted programs throughout the country and even the world. And we have special situations with students who are children of military soldiers who are entitled by law to similar educational experiences when they have to move. No child should be told when they come to Florida, just because they don't jump through our IQ test hoops well, that they aren't gifted anymore. It's presumptuous of us as representatives for any school system, to decide who is and who isn't gifted based on just one IQ score, when gifted is not something that anyone can easily box up and sell anyway. Gifted students have a multitude of characteristics and needs and every child should be supported, no matter what needs they have. We should not be in the business of trying to screen kids OUT of special services, if they already were identified as needing them in order to achieve.
This new rule change will shake up the way gifted students are treated here, and gifted services in Florida will have to change from being a "program" that the kids have to fit into (as it is now with only high achieving testers qualifying for spots in "gifted classes",) to a range of services that fit the individual needs of kids who are coming from so many different places where the label of giftedness may include multiple qualifying characteristics. It's a start to move gifted services in the right direction, and I'm so proud of being a part of the committee that made this possible for so many kids to have less gate-keeping standing in their way to get services. It's the least I could do to fix what almost broke my own child, so others won't encounter that when they come to the sunshine state.
Perhaps the end of the days of scoring helicopter test answers is getting closer. Although I am impressed with Miranda's choice test answer word- helicopters are pretty cool machines. They are the most versatile flying machines out there, and they can get you where you need to go, even when the terrain is rocky. Our gifted kids don't have helicopters to maneuver all their challenges, and we can't get them where they need to be by hovering over them, but we should at least be able to get them the support they are entitled to so they can launch into their futures with less of a fight. My kid gave me plenty of fight, but because of her and all her challenges that came from not having access to services that motivated me, more gifted kids will have smoother entries into Florida.