Early achievers upstaging older counterparts

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD/Guest Columnist

One of the unchanged beauties within this county over the course of my life as a driver has been the open road of an early Saturday morning.

Well, unless you try to pass a high school five minutes before the required time to show up to take the ACT. Juniors and seniors tend toward fashionably late, even for important tests, but the group has company for December and February in the form of seventh graders that are beginning their testing fashionably early.

For the last 25 years, Duke University and teachers, counselors and parents of high-achieving seventh graders in the southeast have been working together to provide students with the opportunity to take the ACT or SAT. Students qualify for the program by scoring in the 95th percentile or higher in a major subcategory, like math or reading, of a standardized test the previous spring.

I love the Duke initiative for many reasons. I always tell my sixth-grade students in April that their efforts are directly rewarded because they can qualify to be a part of a prestigious program.

The following August, I pull test scores, find the students that qualify, and then turn into a bit of a salesperson. For some students, they need convincing that taking a four-hour test on a Saturday is actually a reward. For those students, I tell them that the test is a good thing because they get material from Duke about summer programs and college information over the next two years. Plus, if the students score high enough when they take the test, they can earn state or even national recognition.

My sales job extends to some parents as well who are concerned about their $85 (for the ACT this year) going toward a test that parents might not remember too fondly. My response is that for those kids who have known nothing but boredom on standardized tests because they know all the answers, the ACT or SAT stretches their skills beyond just seventh grade knowledge to find out just how much they know in a particular subject.

So, if you find yourself near a testing center in the next few months, have pity on the juniors and seniors racing to grab a parking spot. Chances are that many of them will be upstaged by the talent of students four and five years younger.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.