The Accomplishment Trap


I posted a news blurb about a local kid on the blog’s Facebook page a few days ago.  A second grader – who has been at this all-girls school since she was 3, earned “High Honors” from the John Hopkins Center For Talented Youth.  She participated in the CTY talent search – which included students from over 65 different countries.  Competition was fierce, and she should be very proud of herself.  I’m proud for her!

But here’s the thing – she took the PSAT.  In second grade.  And although she did really well, one of the comments on a local Facebook page by a staff member of the school stood out.  She said:


We have more girls prepping for the test this coming year.


My brain went “thunk!”

My heart said “those poor girls!”

I should note – I know nothing about the school this student attends except that it’s all-girl, it’s religious, and it’s expensive.  I couldn’t even find a website for them.  So I’m completely guessing and assuming about what going to this school is like.

I do know this: you can’t make gifted.  And I’m annoyed that the CTY talent search is based on TEST scores.  What if you don’t test well?  What if you’re twice exceptional and have issues reading the questions, or writing, or the test center lights are driving you nuts?  Does that mean you’re not gifted?

Absolutely freaking not!

I fail to see how a test that measures how effective you are at memorizing facts (because that’s really what the PSAT is, right?) can indicate if you are gifted or not.

Here’s the thing: you cannot measure giftedness by productivity.  You cannot measure giftedness by academic accomplishment.  And you cannot measure giftedness by memorization skills.

Gifted is different wiring.  Gifted is highly intelligent, asynchronous, and quirky.  And sometimes one of those quirks is not taking tests well.

The problem is that our society measures value in accomplishment.  They don’t value art the same way as money.  A good job is more desirable than innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.  Parents routinely push their college-age kids towards the better-paying careers in college, and approve less of liberal arts careers like art, history, or English.

What’s the point of having high intelligence if you can’t make money from it? is the mantra.  Society doesn’t want quirky kids, we want geniuses that will make millions and wow thousands with their output.

This kind of viewpoint makes me sad.  Our gifted and twice exceptional kids may not do well on tests.  And how do you think that makes them feel?  Smart?  Intelligent?  Highly intelligent?

No, doing poorly on a test doesn’t make anyone feel good about themselves.  Especially if you’re gifted, and you know that you’re capable of so much more!


I did well on standardized tests.  I didn’t know that I was gifted, but I knew that I was smart and that I should get a high score.  And the thing is, I mastered the art of temporary memorization – that weird thing where you commit something to short-term memory but discard it before it gets to long-term memory.  I would carefully study in college for tests, and by the end of the next semester I could barely remember anything that I studied.  I just needed it to pass the test.

If I wasn’t interested in it, I lost it.  To be fair, I have some sort of memory retention issues so I’m probably not the best example for this.  If I ever meet you in person, I apologize if I ignore you the next time we meet because I honestly don’t recognize you.  Names, faces, and dates are particularly difficult for me, and I have to really work hard to remember them.  If it wasn’t for refreshing with photographs I wouldn’t even remember what family look like.  Sad but true.

My point is – testing isn’t indicative of much except memorization.  Knowing the material, understanding the concepts, and retaining it while putting it to use – that’s important.  That’s a life skill.

Testing is a game.  And I refuse to play.  I won’t let my kids play either – they can take the test, but we’re not going to cram for it.  Screw that.  It’s not worth wasting my child’s freedom just to get “high honors” in some contest.

I don’t play that kind of game.  It’s just not worth the cost.


Note: there’s a lot at stake for this particular talent search.  It’s the cheapest and easiest way to qualify for CTY advanced courses for gifted students.  Which includes the online courses.  So if a 2e student failed to qualify and had no way to pay for additional IQ testing, then they are unable to utilize the CTY resources.









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