If looks could kill, I would not have made it out of that conference room. Facing eight frustrated and emotionally exhausted middle school teachers as a first year school psychologist summoned to assist with Jodi, a seventh grade student they were describing as having a penchant for disrespect, condescension, and a lack of regard for the feelings of his peers and teachers, I uttered four dangerous words: “Could he be gifted?”
Leading into the meeting, I had consulted on several occasions with the eight respected colleagues of mine who had no idea of the disdain they would later feel for your humble narrator. Their descriptions of Jodi were perfectly in line with what I observed of the student in the classroom. Jodi would sit in the back of the classroom, feet up on the desk in front of him, gigantic unpacked book bag on the floor to his right, his desktop empty except for when he would occasionally rest his elbows to support the science fiction book his head was perpetually buried in. Classmates would try to engage him and get snide pithy sarcastic responses or silence in return. Teachers received much of the same treatment, with the occasional, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” comment from Jodi.
Work production was zero. Literally not a name on a paper most days. The previous few years had shown a steady stream of mediocre grades, with scores of mostly C and D, but by grade seven, Jodi was a straight F student. He had about a dozen discipline referrals for the school year with six days of out of school suspension for defiance. He was essentially working his way towards an expulsion for insubordination and his teachers, while at their collective wits’ ends, needed to know: “What is wrong with this kid?” There was a genuine feeling that this child may have an emotional disability and maybe the school psychologist could get Jodi the help he needs rather than have him expelled and jettisoned to the “alternative school.”
Fast forward to the seventh grade teachers’ meeting with the school psychologist. The reaction to my assertion that Jodi might be gifted ranged from disbelieving laughter with head shaking to silent eye rolling that said, “We’re on our own here,” to the red faced rage of a teacher I’ll call Ms. Fierce who taught me a few words that in my youth I could never have imagined teachers actually saying out loud. Their skepticism was understandable. Much of their experience with gifted children in their classrooms was students with straight A grades, creative and motivated children showing off their brilliance on a daily basis. Somehow Jodi’s Fs and lack of production both verbally and on paper didn’t quite fit that common idea of a child who is gifted, nor did his unacceptable behaviors. “Let me test him to rule it out,” I pleaded. “I’ll get it done ASAP, and if nothing else, I’ll see what I can figure out from working with him and we’ll go from there.” The team gave me less than their blessing, but agreed to let me explore my theory. I imagine the conversations that followed as they walked back to their classrooms might have alluded to the “new psych” being crazy or clueless or both.
Consent was obtained from Jodi’s parents, who were sweet and involved folks who were as concerned and frustrated as the child’s teachers. Evaluating Jodi was a fascinating experience. It was obvious from our first few minutes together that he was brilliant. He spoke with an expansive vocabulary forming beautifully eloquent sentences. As rapport was built, Jodi relished in the opportunity to discuss his passion for astrophysics and the latest Stephen Hawking book about black holes, gravitational wave detectors, and various other topics not included in my grad school curriculum. Working through the activities on our WISC-IV IQ test, Jodi continued to impress with an amazing memory, super quick mental processing, an uncanny ability to decode just about any visual pattern you set before him, and of course, those remarkable verbal skills.
When all was said and done, Jodi’s full IQ was an astronomical 156! To put that in perspective (pardon the forthcoming statistical-babble), most of the population has an IQ somewhere between 90 and 109, which is average; 100 is the perfectly average IQ score. The proverbial “gifted” student is two standard deviations (stay with me…) above that 100, which is an IQ of 130. Only 2% of the population is at that level of intelligence. So with Jodi’s IQ of 156, he is nearly two standard deviations above what is considered gifted. In summation, Jodi was much smarter than the smartest of the smart! Imagine the difficulty in relating to peers when you are that far beyond 99.9% of them intellectually. Entering my 15th year in education, my 9th as a school psychologist, Jodi’s IQ remains the highest score I have administered.
Obviously, Jodi’s testing results qualified him for the gifted program. It was determined that he would go to a school that had a full-time gifted curriculum. If this were fiction, I might tell you that Jodi went on to be a straight A student. Truth is, he went on to be a B and C student whose brilliance will always make him a little quirky. I have encountered his parents several times over the years, and while they say Jodi’s improved grades are wonderful, gaining friends who actually “get” him and maintaining relationships with other gifted kids in his program has been the greatest result of his identification. And so, one of my favorite stories to share from my career thus far has a moral: that naughty kid might just be gifted.