One of my commenters brought up an excellent point: It's extremely difficult to get a fair assessment on the intellectual/cognitive level of a child who spent years in an orphanage then is adopted and moved to a foreign country, or any child, perhaps even an adult, for that matter. What I'm about the write is my own experience, views, thoughts, observations and opinions though a lot of it is well-known and well-documented but not followed in American school systems.
What are some of the reasons it's hard to accurately assess our kids who spent time in orphanages before their adoptions?
1. Typical to extreme levels of neglect, especially during infancy and all the results of this.
2. Poor nutrition.
3. Poor education, beginning with a lack of the normal back and forth interactions and infant would experience with a loving parent to the poor education many orphans experience in schools before their adoption.
4. Lack of life experience and lack of experience with reasoning, logic, decision making (orphans usually aren't given choices about anything), problem solving and general exposure to philosophical ideas and diversity.
5. Exposure to a new language, culture and way of life (family living vs. orphanage life).
6. Special needs.
In one evaluation, I had to fill out a behavioral assessment. One of the questions was something like this: Does your child use how, what, when and where correctly in a sentence? Never/Sometimes/Always.
This question can be answered Sometimes for each of my older girls, especially at first, but even now, especially for Blossom, which is indicative of her special need because she learned English the fastest and the best, had the highest reading level in Chinese, but very low writing ability, and has acquired the largest English vocabulary as well as use of colloquialisms. More on this later.
Another question was: Does your child bathe, brush their teeth, comb their hair appropriately by themselves? Never/Sometimes/Always.
Again, none of my girls did at first. This is because no one took the time in their orphanages to show them how to do it thoroughly. Now, Sissy does great. Blossom, not so great and sometimes not at all. But now, she can get herself ready in the morning without me being there. Every couple days, I check her teeth to make sure the brushing well (or at all) and I frequently have to send her back to her room to change clothes because they are either dirty, too small, too big, not appropriate or VERY mismatched. And no, I'm not going to let my child out in public looking like a clown at her age wearing primary colored stripes, plaids and polka dots all at the same time. If she was 4, yes, it's cute when their 4. It's not cute at 14.5.
Today, I received a call from the school district. They wanted to assess Blossom's English language ability because on one of the enrollment forms it asks what her first language was. There were fields to choose from and only one said Chinese. I explained that she spoke two Chinese dialects and usually there is a place to select Mandarin or Cantonese or Other, but not on this form. (She is actually their FIRST Chinese-speaking student! Shocking to me, who lived in the Bay Area and was surrounded by Cantonese and Mandarin speakers for the last 27 years). I explained that she does have a special need but that I'd help them test her. This test was completely invalid BEFORE they even began. Here's why:
1. It was for 9th-12th graders. Blossom is only at 1st-2nd grade level.
2. The man giving the test had a Chinese last name and a Hispanic first name and a very thick Panamanian accent. The test was orally given. I could understand him but it wasn't easy and he made errors as he read from getting entire words completely wrong to leaving off a plural s sound at the end of a plural word.
3. Blossom couldn't even understand the instructions the way he read them, but I was allowed to clarify them for her.
The first question had three pictures. There were one or two rulers, arranged differently, in each picture. The question was: Which two rulers are perpendicular to each other? Blossom, of course, hasn't learned what perpendicular means so she couldn't answer that question. If her math was at a 9th grade level, she'd have come across that word by now. Did this question accurately assess her ability to understand English? No. Because it was above her cognitive level.
The second question showed three pictures again. There were three shapes in each picture and in two pictures there was a fourth shape inside one of the three shapes. The question was: Which picture shows a circle inside a rectangle? But the first time the man read it, he said triangle instead of rectangle and instead of saying, oops, I made a mistake, he read the problem again as though repeating it exactly, but he said rectangle. It was hard to pick up on the difference because of his accent. Blossom knows her shapes but has to think a little bit about their names - due to English, not cognitive level. However, her cognitive level interfered with her understanding of the pictures. She knew there were three possible answers. In the first picture, she saw three shapes and in one of those shapes there was another shape, a circle in a square. She didn't realize that each picture had three main shapes and that she needed to look at each of the SETS of shapes, not just the first set. I pointed out to her where A,B and C pictures were, but she had fixated on the first picture and the three shapes there and couldn't let go of her idea and belief that those three shapes in picture one were the three options. She got it wrong. Later, I asked her if she knew the difference between a square and a rectangle and she did and described it well. Then, I showed her the pictures again and explained how each choice was a set of shapes and that she needed to look at all the sets and ignore shapes that were alone and look at the shapes that had another shape inside them. Then she got it. This is why teaching her takes so long. More on this later, too.
The third question showed three pictures of framed art and asked: Which picture shows a portrait? She'd only heard of the word portrait in her 5th month home when I had the girls draw their self portraits. That's a long time for anyone new to a language to remember a word that early on, heard only once or twice. She couldn't answer. I looked at the man and said watch this: I said, "A portrait is a picture of a person's head and shoulders. Which picture shows a portrait?" She picked the correct one.
We stopped the test. They filled out paperwork to leave the evaluation of English ability up to the testing done for the IEP.
Unless a test is at the level of the child's cognitive ability and within their knowledge of experience, the test will be grossly inaccurate!
The assessments given by school districts compare kids like mine to average American kids of the same age. But let's look at America now. What is average? How many kids are immigrants or born to immigrants? What are their home cultures like? What does a 14 yr. old Amish child know when compared to a child raised in New York City? An Amish child may be very knowledgeable and experienced about growing crops and farming but a child raised in New York City probably hasn't even seen a tomato growing, so if a child in New York City was shown three plants without their fruit, such as a tomato plant, corn and an artichoke, they'd probably fail the test. Is one child smarter than another? We sure can't tell by this kind of test.
Last year, when all three of my girls were evaluated, Blossom's was the absolute most fair and accurate of the three AND as fair and accurate as I think one can get for HER. There was a Chinese translator who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese. As much of the test that could be done non-verbally or using pictures instead of words, pointing instead of writing, was done. I made sure to note on all the questions I answered, which was a second language issue and what was a cognitive issue. I know what I've tried to teach her. For example, I've taught her basic hygiene. It's still a struggle for her, but she's reached an acceptable level. By this, I mean that I don't have to be in the bathroom with her when she's getting ready every day, but every couple of days, I check her teeth to make sure she's brushing well (or at all) and I do frequently send her back to change clothes because she's either put on something dirty, too small, too big, or not appropriate.
Back to Blossom's acquisition of English. She was taught some English in China. She could clearly say, "Hello, nice to meet you." She knew yes and no and a couple other things, like the alphabet. Even though she was nearly 12 years old when I got her, she learned English like a younger child, by babbling and imitating the sounds, not by translating. Sissy would look up each word carefully in her dictionary or use the translator, then think in Chinese, translate in her head, then say it in English, stiffly, unnaturally, trying to get it perfect. Blossom was like a baby constantly babbling, singing, trying out her words without any embarrassment at all. She learned English fast! She acquired a huge vocabulary in a short amount of time. She picked up colloquialisms, slang, idioms - she picked it ALL up - things only adults would usually say, bad words if she passed by someone using them. Looking back, I can see why she picked up language so fast... She's at that cognitive level. Her brain didn't mature and develop to the point where that skill is changed to the learning-by-translating method of language learning. But now, she's still stuck at that level. She's got all this vocabulary and speaking ability but can't wield it appropriately. This is an excellent example of how her special need served her well and then how it's preventing her from further development.
Back to learning taking a long time. Part of the language assessment today showed Blossom three pictures. They wanted her to write in her native or first language what was happening in each picture. The pictures were stick figures. The first was a waiter taking a person's order. The person ordering was sitting at a table in what looked like a restaurant. The second picture showed the waiter bringing the food on a tray. The third picture showed that the waiter tripped and the contents of the tray were falling onto the person at the table.
My question to the man giving the test, "Do you really think that a child raised in an orphanage would have been taught the Chinese characters for restaurant ordering?" He was chagrined and said, "No."
I then asked Blossom to tell me what was happening in the first picture. She said, "He, no she... Mommy, does it show he and she?"
The pictures did not show gender so I said it didn't matter. She was then able to say that the waiter, and she used the word waiter, was writing down the man's order (she didn't use the word order, but said something like - the food he wants). Then - special need kicked in here - no filter for sorting information and sticking to what is relevant and knowing what is easily implied.... Remember, the next picture is the waiter bring the food order to the table, but Blossom started talking and talking... "The the cook cooked the food in the kitchen and put it on the plate and the waiter......"
I stopped her and said that we are looking at the pictures we can see, not what we know happened next after the order was taken.
I can't help but wonder if her special need is caused by something that would otherwise be considered genius: an ability to see the ENTIRE picture and right now, she just isn't able to filter and prioritize the information. A lot like auditory processing disorder where the person hears every single thing from the cars driving by to the people talking in the next room, to the person talking beside them to the shuffling of papers at a desk, etc... and every sound is of equal importance in the brain, it's not filtered and sorted and given priorities or ignored.