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Gifted Testing In Singapore From A Parent’s Perspective

It was Christmas Eve. My five-year-old was going for an intelligence assessment. I had driven for half an hour to an old estate in the south of Singapore and I crossed a run-down looking overhead bridge and reached the place. When we entered the centre, the owner came to say hi but El was quiet. She commented he was shy, and I wondered how true that was. El was then led to a small room with a psychologist, who is experienced with gifted children. I was seated in the corridor with a questionnaire to fill in. I had selected this late morning time slot so that El would be wide awake.

I had not expected to be asked questions about El’s birth stats, and his milestones. With two children, I just wanted them to meet their milestones. I had forgotten exactly when. When did he start sitting up? When did he start crawling? I tried to figure out some of the information. I remembered that El started talking around 2 years old. He started walking after turning one, but I could not be sure which month it was.

I was quizzed on his behaviour in class and interaction. I suddenly realised that El had problems paying attention in class. Even in art classes which he had asked for, he did not focus. I was also quizzed on his skills in language and mathematics. Actually, I did not really know because I did not spend much time with him on Mathematics. I only knew he could do complicated addition and subtraction, but still get seven plus seven wrong.

While reading his school reports, I was shocked to see how little his teachers had stretched him. In nursery, the teacher wrote he could count from 1 – 50. In K1, his teacher wrote that he could count from 1 – 20. Did his ability to count to 50 or more disappear suddenly? No, it was more of how much the teacher knew how what he knew.

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I could not remember the exact time El was in there. I could not finish by the time he was done. It was the psychologist’s turn to talk to me. He mentioned that El warmed up very quickly. He remarked that El was intelligent and went through the questionnaire with me. I shared with him some of his behaviour and my concerns.

He asked why I had wanted El to take the test. This is Singapore, where acceleration is near to impossible in mainstream schools, except for exceptionally gifted (EG) children, and gifted children are only identified at the age of 9. I guess I wanted to know whether he was gifted and how gifted he was, if he were. He told me that El was gifted, but the exact score would be revealed after he had crunched the numbers.

On our way home, El was busy eating a slice of pizza which I had bought earlier, and I asked him what was tested. He said he had forgotten them, but could describe a silly picture in detail to me. He mentioned they also used blocks, after I repeatedly asked him.

I had originally decided against testing. It is not cheap, and there is nothing much one could do with the results. I found a place for IQ assessment after googling. When I had checked out MOE’s website, there was something on acceleration for exceptionally gifted children. It would require testing either with the Stanford Binet V or WISC IV for MOE to recognise him. Was he in that range? While I could check off a number of criteria listed by on that page, there were other criteria that were not that strong.

One factor that had influenced my decision was the choice of school. The Ministry of Education (Singapore) had mentioned that EG students could find their own school. I had read the EG criteria over and over again, and felt that many of them applied to El. Could he be somewhat near that range in terms of intellectual capacity? I felt that there was a need to find out.

If there was a possibility that El could get into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) at 10 years old, wouldn’t it be good if he could go into a school that was offering the programme right from the start at 7? There would be less disruption in terms of change. There is such a school that is not too far away from my place, a school I would like my children to get into, but it is near to impossible due to its popularity and a large number of alumni who get priority over other children. I like that school because it has a strong bilingualism environment, something I strongly believe in. If the mainstream school route does not work out, then I would have to seriously consider homeschooling.

Another factor was El told me he did not enjoy kindergarten as it was boring. He said he learnt more at home than in school. The thought of him learning sight words such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘on’, ‘I’, ‘he’ and other simple words for another year had quite an effect on me. He had already known how to read and spell multi-syllabic words. He told me he would like to have something more challenging. As a mother, I should do something about it.

However, despite that, I was still procrastinating on testing El due to a heavy workload. It was a stroke of luck when I managed to speak to a friend with a child in somewhat similar shoes. She told me about how the gifted branch at MOE could provide advice.

MENSA would be another avenue for El to meet intellectual peers. To get into MENSA junior, they would require an IQ assessment, since they only carry out testing for 14 years and above. She provided me information on various psychologists. One of them was one whom I had contacted earlier, so I thought out of courtesy and convenience I would continue with that option.

With these in mind, El took the assessment. A few weeks after that, I had received his report. While I was wistfully hopeful that he could be EG so that he could have acceleration, realistically I thought he was just gifted. I was shocked by his results nevertheless. He is not EG, but the scores (based on norms from US children) are still pretty high, far higher than what I had expected. His intellectual capacity is currently similar to that of a 9-year-old. This boy would probably cruise through primary school in most subjects and not be challenged at all, except for Chinese Language. Then he would be in for a rude shock when he reaches a higher level, and has not acquired the right study skills to cope with a more demanding curriculum. When that happens, it would be too late.

I was a little hesitant to let El take the Stanford Binet 5 test because the WISC IV is the one that is really great for verbal kids. However, since he is born late in the year, getting him to do the WISC IV (which only tests children 6 years and above) would be too late in terms of school enrolment. The SB5 test components include Fluid Reasoning, Knowledge, Quantitative Reasoning, Visual-Spatial Processing, and Working Memory in both Verbal and Non-verbal domains. However, his non-verbal scores turned out to be slightly higher than his verbal scores. I wonder whether the WISC IV score would be slightly different, since the verbal component is greater. The psychologist mentioned that El was very visual, and this was evident from his description of the silly pictures in his test. Perhaps this explains why El is always coming up with very specific names for dinosaur pictures and toys when he sees the toys or books. I see T-Rex, he sees muttaburrasaurus (two very different types of dinosaurs, one carnivorous and the other herbivorous).

Now that I have El’s test results, does that change anything? He is still the same child. I did not reveal the purpose of the test to him. Perhaps not much in terms of academics, since he would not be able to accelerate. I would do what most kiasu Singaporean parents (Tiger Moms, anyone?) would do – afterschooling. He could do additional work at home or at enrichment centres to stretch him.

At the very least, at least El’s father and I are on the same page. Even after the testing, when the psychologist mentioned that El was gifted before the release of the IQ report, my husband was worried that he would turn out not to be gifted after calculation. Now, he does not deny that El is gifted and that we should handle him accordingly. We also gained some parenting tips and advice from the psychologist, who suggested that El should pick up violin, which would do a fidgety boy good.

I think it is time to walk the talk, and do more to be an advocate for my child. Perhaps my child’s current teachers would finally not think I am a deluded parent who thinks her child is gifted.

This blog is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Testing.


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