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Parenting in the Age of High-Stakes Testing: Gifted and Talented Admissions and the Meaning of Parenthood

by Allison Roda

Background/Context: This work contributes to the growing body of scholarly and popular literature on middle-class parental anxiety and competition to ensure their children’s academic success. Specifically, this study provides a better understanding of the measures parents will take to obtain high status gifted and talented (G&T) placements that advantage their own children at the expense of others, which is somewhat contradictory given the growing uneasiness they feel about putting their children through the testing process—and paying for test prep—that the system ultimately rewards. By analyzing the different ways in which White parents and parents of color conceive of good parenting in the era of high-stakes testing, I demonstrate the processes in our current educational system that help to produce inequities related to race, class, and G&T identification.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This paper examines White parents’ beliefs about parenting as it relates to their school choice preferences in the segregated and stratified New York City school system. It also compares the parenting styles and school choices of lower income general education (Gen Ed) parents of color. It explores how parents’ social constructions of where their children belong in school are tied to their beliefs about parenting and doing what is best for their children in a highly competitive society and city.

Research Design: A qualitative case study was utilized to examine how a diverse group of 52 New York City parents make sense of and interact with an elementary school that offers both a segregated G&T and a Gen Ed program. The semistructured parent interview data was triangulated with school observations, a professional school-choice consultant interview, and an observation of a public school choice workshop for incoming kindergarten parents led by the consultant.

Findings/Results: The data show that White parents believe that paying for test prep, going through the “hassle of getting your child tested for G&T,” and receiving a high test score are symbolic of being a good parent in the system. In comparison, parents of color had different conceptions of good parenting that did not include prepping for the G&T test or getting into the G&T program, where their children would be in the minority. White parents had social networks of like-minded parents pressuring them to get into the G&T program. Black and Latino parents did not have the same G&T pressure from friends or family, nor did they view a G&T placement as giving their children extra advantages in terms of test scores or future schooling opportunities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings suggest that the pressure for children to succeed on a single test feeds into parental anxiety and competition regarding getting their children into the high-status G&T program. Instead of trying to avoid an overly anxious parenting culture, the White advantaged parents in this setting get swept up in the test-prepping fad because everyone else is doing it and because of the competitive nature of obtaining a G&T seat. If policy officials want to attack the root of the G&T segregation problem, the city should consider phasing out district G&T programs altogether and instituting school-wide G&T magnets instead.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 8, 2017, p. 1-53 ID Number: 21930, Date Accessed: 11/17/2018 1:12:52 PM

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