Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Specialized Schools

I grew up in Manhattan and attended public schools my entire childhood. I'd say I got an okay education. I mean, I'm a doctor now, so you can't exactly hold me up as a failure of the public school system.

I guess most big cities have magnet schools or specialized schools or whatever you call them. As far as I know, for the grade school years, Manhattan only had Hunter Elementary School. No wait, it was actually called Hunter College Elementary School. You know you're sending your kid to a good elementary school when it has the word "college" in its name.

According to their website, Hunter is a "publicly funded school for gifted and talented students pre-primary to grade 6." So basically you get this great education for free and all you have to do is prove that you're gifted.

The admissions process at Hunter is two rounds. "In the first round, the parent takes the child to an approved psychologist, who is trained to give an assessment of intellectual reasoning, a modified Stanford-Binet exam. Children who score at or above an eligibility score are invited to Round 2. At Round 2, children meet in groups of nine where trained consultants observe the child’s behaviors in individual and group tasks, as well as their interaction with peers and a teacher."

So basically, they watch you eat paste and see if your paste-eating skills are intellectually superior to that of your colleagues.

Can you see where this is going? That I didn't get in? As a three year old, my paste-eating skills just weren't on par with other kids.

I could make some comments about how skeezy it is to put preschool kids through a testing process like that and then tell them that they weren't good enough. I could also suggest that perhaps the whole idea of singling out "gifted" children at such a young age is a little ridiculous and that probably the majority of kids would do well if placed in a rich learning environment. But that would all sound like sour grapes.

Anyway, if you fail to measure up as a preschooler, you get a second chance to get in for 7th grade, now to Hunter College High School. Again, note the word college.

Again, there were two rounds. First, they looked at your standardized test scores and selected the kids they deemed worthy to take their exam. Then you took a test that involved a math, verbal, and essay section.

I was one of the kids in my class selected to take the exam, because of course, I was hella smart (i.e. I was a huge nerd). I didn't have any tutoring specifically for it, but my mother kind of prepped me and she certainly put a lot of pressure on me. Anyway, long story short, I failed the exam. Actually, my score on the math and language part of the exam was passing, but there was an essay portion that I bombed. Two kids in my class got in and it killed me that my score on the math/language portion was much, much higher than either of them. Same thing happened to me on the MCATs. Seems like these standardized essays are my Achilles heel. Maybe I shouldn't have written an essay about a boy in my class I was crushing on.

Anyway, it didn't end up mattering a whole lot, because I got into a specialized public high school for 9th grade, and I'm just sayin', we regularly kicked Hunter's ass in pretty much all academic competitions. Except for paste-eating, they were way better on that.


  1. HEY! You must be one of those snobs that Santorum is talking about!

  2. I'm not a fan of standardized tests, and even less of how we seem to use them so heavily for everything. It's an imperfection solution to a realistic problem, though. How else do you choose who gets in and who doesn't? I'm talking about virtually any education program, living space, and so on. There aren't enough resources to let everyone in, so how do you choose who gets in? In an ideal world, everyone would be screened one-on-one (or even better - with a group panel) and given plenty of time to express who they are, revealing all positives and negatives. But again, there just aren't the resources for that.

    And so the standardized test reigns supreme...

    (Side note: I often wonder how it is that I, as someone who hates standardized tests, ended up in medical school, which is basically test hell. Nice to know that there are people who have gone through the system who were also not fans of standardized exams.)

  3. Ledgem: Standardized tests love me, so I have no problem with them. My bigger issue is the subjective stuff that gives them an excuse to exclude kids for bullshit reasons. Like watching kids play and somehow deciding one is better than another? Really??

  4. I absolutely dread standardized tests. Although I do fairly well in them, I find that they are inadequate to really measure someone's abilities, by putting them on the spot. Maybe some people are just better at dealing with stress than others, and responding better then, but normally not so gifted.
    In any case, I bet it really bums out the children to know they aren't good enough. Pressure like that shouldn't be put on little children, or they grow up having insecurities and comparing themselves to others, or worse - become gunners.

  5. In an ideal world, we'd provide every single child with educational opportunities to learn to their maximum ability. But that would cost money, and there's the rub.

  6. Yeah, it's way too much trouble and too snobbish to consider giving everyone in the country a good education.

  7. If it makes you feel better, I didn't get into Brearley because I spent the group interview watching the boats on the East river -- mostly because this obnoxious girl Liza was monopolizing the interview.

    The ironic part is that Liza not only ended up attending the same college that I did, but was in the same house in the same dorm. And she never really had much of a career (aspiring actress/costume designer in Manhattan).

    So, it didn't matter for me either -- and at least your parents were astute enough to try to get you into Hunter. I think mine thought I'd never get in for some reason and never even made me apply.

    PS -- I took my first standardized IQ test when I was 2 to get into pre-school.

    PPS -- I'm DEFINITELY one of those people Santorum thinks are snobs.

    PPPS -- Is Stuyvesant high school only?

    1. Stuyvesant is a high school only now, but maybe someday it will be an elementary school, preschool, and daycare center like Hunter.

      I think the worst thing for me specifically was that my mother put so much pressure on me to get in, especially for JHS. And for the wrong reasons. She made it a matter of prestige, that it would be such an honor to go there. In reality, the reason I would have been better off there was because kids at public middle schools in the city don't take kindly to nerdy girls who think math is fun. I did not have a great two years there.

  8. I hear ya.

    When I actually tried to put effort into writing a good essay for a standardized exam, the graders/powers that be deemed my writing mediocre. Or, at least, I didn't get the score on the state* writing exam (given in the 4th grade) that would have allowed me to attend the special pizza party that my school threw.

    Then I learned my lesson and adopted a bs style of writing for the essay sections in both my SAT and MCAT, and ended up getting decent scores. And in the latter, I included a ridiculous paragraph in favor of letting people have the freedom to view internet porn, if they so desire.

    *I might as well add that the state in question was Texas.

    1. Yeah, after the Hunter debacle, I learned how to write a real essay, and did very well on every subsequent essay exam. Until the MCATs, when I somehow went back to my roots and bombed it.

  9. I didn't get into Nightingale-Bamford at 7yo because I told the headmistress I had had lice. I went to Horace Mann though, lice notwithstanding.

  10. I went to Stuy too! (and I flunked the Hunter test :oD) Oh... and I'm starting my residency in PM&R in July (currently suffering thru intern yr in NYC) so I absolutely HEART your blog.