The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, March 19, 2007

Raymond Ravaglia on out of level testing

As regular readers will know, Raymond Ravaglia, the Deputy Director of EPGY, the Education Program for Gifted Youth, at Stanford University recently gave a talk in Singapore.

He spoke of several things: one of them was his views on out-of-level testing. He considered this form of testing to be ill-conceived. In his eyes, there was no reason why a gifted child would be able to handle the material, for it was unlikely that the gifted child would have covered the material. It didn't make any sense to him that a child should be tested on material the child was probably unaware of. This was, in his opinion, very likely to generate a "false negative" - that is a child would be marked as "non-gifted" by an out of level test, simply because they had never met the material before when, in fact, they were gifted.

Raymond Ravaglia thought that it was wiser to design tests which were in-level, in the sense of being of material covered by the child at the relevant age, but which were designed to be more challenging in their presentation of questions. In this way, a child would not be penalized for not having covered a particular curriculum and would have the opportunity to show their gift, without distortion. He thought that this was much more likely to give a positive result for a gifted child and would not lead to false negatives, and loss of opportunity for the gifted child.

I had rather come to Raymond Ravaglia's view, myself, when first introduced to the idea of out-of-level testing - but it is interesting to see this opinion held by someone working in the American University system. The reasoning on the issue is why then does the practise of out-of-level testing persist?

Out-of-level testing is based on a misconception about what a gifted child is. A gifted child is a more intelligent child than an average one and is able to learn faster. Yet, a gifted child is not a miracle worker. If the child has not been exposed to the curriculum in question, one cannot expect that child to perform according to their true ability. They will under-perform if the curriculum is new.

My son, Ainan, has been subject to "out-of-level" testing in his area of Chemistry. In his case, the procedure is OK because he does, in fact, have much knowledge of Chemistry beyond his age range. In this case, the practise may be appropriate. Yet, in most cases, such a form of testing is likely to lead to a mismeasure of the child - and therefore should be avoided. If the child does have out-of-level knowledge - then test away. If the child has great ability but does not have out-of-level knowledge then such testing is really going to be harmful.

So, think carefully before consenting to such testing: the results could compromise your child's future and close doors that might have been opened by a different kind of testing.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, thirteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:27 AM 


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