Friday, April 9, 2010


A few nights ago -- just before I left on this trip, actually -- Noel mentioned something that got my wheels churning. Archer had told his dad that he needed to score 85% on his Arkansas Benchmark Test to remain in the gifted and talented program next year.

Two relevant facts: (1) Archer has thrived in the Pinnacle program. He is given assignments that involve technologies that are very attractive to him, like Powerpoint. He has the opportunity to participate in the chess club, creating from nothing a year-long obsession with the game. And the challenges put to him, like interpreting a proverb or axiom, have pushed him to develop strategies for dealing with aspects of language (like its metaphorical, allusive, or poetic nature) that don't come naturally to him. (2) The writing and reading portions of the Benchmark are bound to be challenging for him. So a top score is by no means certain.

When I got an e-mail from his GT instructor today about another matter, I took the opportunity to ask what criteria will govern retention in the program for next year, mentioning that Archer had made this remark about 85%.

And when she replied, I felt somewhat foolish for not figuring out where that number really came from. What happened was that the teacher had told the class that if they did really well, she'd teach them a new game. Archer immediately pressed her for clarification: What score did they need to make to do really well?

That's not at all surprising. It happens at home all the time. We make some if-then statement about consequences of behavior. Archer demands clarification along the lines of quantification. And sometimes, knowing his need for numbers to organize his world, we relent (just as his teacher did) and provide a scoring system he can use to understand that conditional.

The teacher was able to set my mind at ease about Archer's future in the program. And I was reminded that just as I need reassurance at a qualitative level, Archer needs it at a quantitative one. When I can provide that, I should, even at the cost of what (to me) is clarity.

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