University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg’s recent entry into the debate over how to handle K-12 gifted and talented students was important for two reasons.
First, the fact that the university president is concerned that younger students not in his institution — and not just gifted and talented students — are welcome at a time when there is some disconnect between the K-12 schools and colleges.
Sternberg’s willingness to comment on a primary education issue is important if we are to send high school graduates to college well prepared. It’s not easy to remember another time when a university president jumped eagerly into discussions about how to educate the young students who will one day be his responsibility.
There is turf in education, as in many institutions.
But education is one place where keeping policy planning in silos is especially dangerous.
And it’s unfair to the students who have good high school grades but soon find that in fact they are not prepared for college. It’s a fact for too many of Wyoming’s high school graduates.
As the president of the Wyoming Community College Commission Jim Rose warned recently, one-third of merit scholars in the Hathaway Scholarship Program need remedial work when they enter college.
And they are the successes in high school.
These remedial issues are not limited to Wyoming. A 2008 study by the nonprofit Strong American Schools found that nearly four out of five remedial students had a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher.
So at a time when educators up and down the K-12 system are discussing how to graduate students, who then later need remedial help in college, participation from the university president is welcome and needed.
And if anyone were to ask, “What does the university president know about testing first-graders?” here is the answer.
Understanding different types of “giftedness” has been Sternberg’s career-long subject of study. At Tufts University, Sternberg was the director of the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise Center, specializing in evaluating different ways of learning and being successful.
As Sternberg summed it up in a column written for the Star-Tribune, “The risk of relying too heavily on a standardized test is that one will identify children who are gifted, but especially at taking standardized tests.”
He was responding to a Star-Tribune report on the varying and inconsistent ways school districts in Wyoming evaluate children for gifted and talented programs by pointing out: “Standardized tests are fairly narrow in the range of skills they assess (usually, knowledge and analytical reasoning with that knowledge), whereas giftedness comes in many and diverse forms.
“Students can be gifted scientists, mathematicians, writers, artists, or musicians, among other things. They can be analytically gifted, or creatively or practically gifted.”
Sternberg said in a Star-Tribune interview that sometimes the worst-performing college students are those with high test scores but average grades in high school.
We hope that looking beyond the test scores to students who have the qualities of success will be contagious, and perhaps influence the rigid standards for awarding Hathaway Scholarships. High school students with a focus on one area, such as music or arts, find that their achievements do not count toward the Hathaway Scholarship Program. And one of the program’s major requirements is high ACT scores.
We endorse Sternberg’s comments as a step toward a coordinated effort that effectively evaluates children and then prepares them to succeed in college and in whatever course they follow.