Parents' confidence in school is apparent
March 16, 2006
When I asked the GATE coordinator, sixthgrade teacher Marilyn Bachman, why so few parents bothered, she said, “You know, I think they’re not worried . . . they’re confident that their needs are going to get met here at Montecito Union.”
Can this be true? In general, GATE programs tend to make parents panicky. It’s too easy to believe that whether or not your child gets into the GATE program in the fourth grade when it starts at Montecito Union dictates if he becomes a surgeon or a street sweeper.
It may be that some Montecito Union parents are both confident in the program and confident that their children are going to gain admission. In terms of the latter, at least, they would have good reason for this belief. According to Bachman, by the sixth grade roughly 40 percent of the school’s sixthgraders will pass the IQ and achievement tests required for the GATE program in junior high.
Forty percent is a stunning statistic considering that statewide, the GATE program admits only those students who score in the top 98th percentile or higher on an IQ test.
What’s going on at Montecito Union? Many intelligence experts today, especially academic psychologists, say that IQ test results are 80 percent genetic and just 20 percent environmental.
Even within academia, this ratio isn’t as accepted as they’d like you to think, however.
For instance, last year I talked to a prominent geneticist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., who thought the ratio was probably closer to an even 5050.
The point here isn’t how large or small the percentage of IQ is genetic we’ll let the academics battle that one out ad infinitum. It’s that even if you believe IQ tests measure intelligence another hotly debated point you can never be certain that scorers who didn’t make the GATE threshold aren’t capable of doing the work, because some portion is environmentally influenced.
Montecito Union’s job, then, should be to treat all its students, not just the ones who passed an IQ test, as if they are potentially genetically capable of doing top work.
And it turns out that’s exactly what the school does in at least one key way.
At Montecito Union, GATE students remain in the same classrooms as the others. There’s no “pull out” program, as it’s called, so this creates an environment of high expectations for all students.
“We have a really toplevel student at our school, so we sort of teach to that level student and pull along the other kids, and that works really well,” says Bachman.
The strategy, along with plenty of resources for small classes and extra programs, works. Incredibly, Bachman estimates that another 20 percent of Montecito Union students don’t test into GATE, but “are really high performers that . . . often get placed in GATE classes, maybe not the first couple of weeks in junior high, but after that.”
So in the end, roughly 60 percent make it into GATE classes after elementary school.
Perhaps Bachman was right, then. Maybe parents did stay at home Thursday night, rather than attend the meeting, because they have confidence their children’s needs are being met at Montecito Union.