Is your child gifted? Or a Dead-On Average dummy?

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A few years ago, when the Diva was in first grade, the school guidance counselor tested her – and bunches of other kids – to see if she was eligible for the advanced class. She wasn’t. Someone suggested I call to see how she scored, so I did. The guidance counselor looked it up and said, in effect, that she wasn’t even close to scoring high enough.

“She’s just dead-on average,” she said.

WHAT?! Um, excuse me, Ms. GUIDANCE COUNSELOR who perhaps skipped a human relations chapter or two, there is no better way to bring out the bitch in me than to call my child Dead-On Average. Because NO CHILD is Dead-On Average. Especially not mine. Have I told you she’s writing a murder mystery right now?

Had the counselor handled the situation more delicately, I might have let the matter drop. But she made me so mad I had the Diva independently tested, and the shrink who did the testing told us that the Diva is so smart that she will one day rule the world. We reported that to the school system, and the Diva has been in the advanced class for three years now. She’s on the honor roll.

A few weeks ago, as I was emptying out the Pterodactyl’s backpack, I found a crumpled envelope covered with Cheez-It crumbs addressed to Hot Firefighter Husband and me. It was a form letter from the same guidance counselor. It said:

Dear Parent:

Your child was given the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test, Second Edition (KBIT2). This is the St. Johns’ County approved screening tool used to help identify students who may qualify for the gifted academic program. Your child did not meet the minimum score required to proceed with further evaluation by the school district.

Please know that your child’s score on the KBIT2 does not make him/her eligible or ineligible for the gifted academic program. Again, the KBIT2 is only a screening instrument and the results do not take the place of an actual IQ score.

Ha, ha! Your kid’s not smart!

Okay, that last line was just the undercurrent. It wasn’t in the actual letter.

Let me organize my thoughts here instead of lashing out and making petty comments about the counselor’s dry brittle hair and general sourpuss aura.

1. DO NOT write to me regarding MY child’s intelligence and stick a lonely useless uninvited apostrophe after the word Johns. Seriously? You miswrote the name of your own employer?
2. I did not ask for my child to be tested, so don’t address me as if I did.
3. My son is so “gifted” that he would probably be manufacturing weapons of mass destruction if we placed him in the advanced class. So we’re going to leave him with the rest of the Dead-On Average dummies.

I love this school, and the teachers do a phenomenal job of keeping the children engaged and motivated. Every teacher we’ve had has instilled a priceless love of learning into the kids, which to me is the most important lesson to teach.

But this attitude toward the “gifted academic program” infuriates me. It previously was called the P.A.C.E. program. I don’t know what that stood for, but I liked it. I despise the term gifted, unless it’s referring to children who play Mozart concertos at age 4 or start college before entering puberty. I don’t tell the Diva she’s gifted – I tell her she learns differently. I want my child to know she’s smart; I don’t want her to think she’s better than anyone else.

Obviously the guidance counselor has been too busy solving Rubik’s Cube puzzles to compose an appropriate letter for parents of the Dead-On Average kids, so I have thoughtfully prepared one. School principals and counselors, feel free to use any or all of this language. You are very welcome.

Dear Parent:

Each year we screen all first graders to analyze whether they’re eligible to be placed in an advanced class that, on occasion, tackles academic material above grade level. The test we use is only a screening tool, and is not a definitive measure of intelligence or ability.

According to test results, your child, at this point, is exactly where he or she needs to be. If you believe that your child isn’t being sufficiently challenged, or needs to be in an environment that includes a faster learning pace, we urge you to talk to your child’s teacher, and to investigate private screening options.

Please remember that this school remains one of the top performing elementary schools in the state, and that all of our children receive the stellar education for which we’re known. Thank you for being involved in your child’s education, and feel free to contact me should you have questions or comments.

Easy-peasy. Your letter, Ms. Guidance Counselor? It was just Dead-On Average. Or maybe a little below that, considering that apostrophe error. Ouch.


  1. Valle

    Ah, thank you…your letter is brilliant. I have many opinions about this education system of ours, particularly about the way we try to segment our kids, as if their learning is the same across the board. I mean, maybe there is a child who doesn’t read so well, but if you test that child in a way that brings out the full balance of their skills and intelligence, you find out that, damn that kid is smart!
    That kid may well be in special education, but that kid is still damn smart. They just learn differently. So should they be in the advanced class for some things and not others? Maybe. Or maybe we train teachers to truly differentiate instruction so that ALL kids learn together in one place.
    Diversity is a good thing … I think we all get that. And that extends to different type of thinkers. The dead-on average kids have a lot to teach the gifted ones. I can guarantee it. And the gifted ones can lift the others.
    And this segmenting kids by flawed testing has got to stop.

    • Tricia

      Valle, well said. Thanks for the valuable addendum. Give your two smart boys kisses from me.

  2. Tricia,
    I love your letter. Please send it to Ms. Donna Kickme and her assistant Ms. Ima Nottahertohelpu in charge of the ESE program for the county. Oh, did I misspell their names? Well, you probably know exactly who I mean.
    Politely offer to photocopy it for them.

  3. Great letter. That poor guidance “counselor” has spent too long reading memos from the school board, and it’s infected her writing.

  4. Dan Hamilton

    It is a verifiable fact that both Steve Jobs and I dropped out of Reed College, within a few years of each other. Would one of the petty bureaucrats you profile here care to suggest which standardized test would have predicted our eventual paths in life? Our present net worth? Our allotted portions of happiness?

  5. Mathilde

    As a licensed and certified (maybe certifiable) special education teacher, who no longer teaches special education, I have very strong opinions about this subject matter. I think that there are only rare occasions that students should be segregated from the mainstream. I don’t care if a student has an IQ of 70 or 170, any teacher worth his or her salt should have the ability to challenge a student to reach his or her greatest academic, social and intellectual potential without having to separate them from their peers. At some point, all students are going to have to face the fact that, in life, there are no exams to gain entry to the “advanced” cubicle, the “enhanced” squad car, the “honors” firetruck, the “AP” trading floor, or the “accelerated” loading dock. The first day on the job, every one is exactly the same. Some employees may have negotiated better salaries because their “gifted” status gained them entry to schools that allowed them access to higher than entry level jobs, but in the end, it is hard work, ethical behavior and consistency that ensures success. As my father used to say: “There are no final exams in life: only a series of pop quizzes.”

    • Tricia

      Mathilde, I think you are right on. And I suspect we’ll pull the Diva out of the program at some point, just for that reason – and because there’s so much more diversity in the mainstream population. Diversity of opinion, diversity of income, diversity of backgrounds – that’s just as important a part of education. I wish I had been exposed to more of it.

  6. Katie

    Holy crapola! I am SO glad you wrote this bc we got the same letter…only we did ask for our son to be tested. Do you know that this same counselor’s son ws in my son’s class last yr and I never knew it?! So much for being an involved parent. I didn’t put two and two tog until a few wks ago…after the test had been admin. Then I wondered if she admin’d it wrong to our son bc I complained abt her the 2nd wk of school (last yr) and didn’t know who she was….

    Long comment, I know…BUT here’s the question….do I have my son privately tested? I don’t know what to do? I totally agree that the word “gifted” is thrown around so quickly and easily…and the number of people in this world who are gifted are few and far between, except for our kids, of course. But what should I do? How important is this? Should I write to Savvy Sister??


    • Tricia

      Hi Katie-
      I know, right? Somebody should send this to the principal. Husband won’t let me. ; } Email me privately about the other thing – I have some thoughts.

  7. Thank you for this. Really.

    • Tricia

      You are welcome, Not Supermom. And if you think you aren’t super, that means you are.

  8. Aw, thanks. We’ve been doing the whole evaluation thing (The Girl was just eval’d for gifted today), but I don’t hold a whole lot of stock in anything that comes from the school any more. Your letter would have been a whole hell of a lot better received than what we got from The Boy’s testing last year. “He didn’t pass the test, because he didn’t try. He seemed bored.” Well, dur.

    Anywho. I wish there were more people like you, who wrote tactful, kind letters, instead of these asshats we deal with.


  9. Jessica Parker

    I’m sorry but I think you are over-reacting. It should not make you mad if your child is not gifted, (which it sounds like she is but still…) it does not mean your child isn’t smart! It is also not the counselor’s fault that she did not score high enough! It is not a bad thing to be “dead-on average!”

    • tricia

      Jessica, I am not over-reacting in the least to my child’s abilities or lack thereof. I honestly don’t care. I’m reacting to the guidance counselor’s clueless assumption that having a child who is “gifted” is the ultimate accomplishment, or dream, for a parent. I also objected to the term “dead-on average.” My kids may score in the middle of the pack, but they are far from average, and I would think a guidance counselor, of all people, who recognize the insensitivity of such language.
      Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts. Come back soon!

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