Pixel Tracker

Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 11:24 am | A Few Clouds 60º


GATE Prep Classes Spark Controversy

{mosimage} Some people believe preparing a child to take the IQ test that determines whether they qualify for GATE is like prepping a high school kid for the SAT. Santa Barbara school officials don’t agree.

Some people believe preparing a child to take the IQ test that determines whether they qualify for GATE is like prepping a high school kid for the SAT. Santa Barbara school officials don’t agree.


Beginning this year, parents of elementary students will be required to sign a statement promising that their children have not — and will not — take so-called GATE prep classes.

The new rule will kick in next month as parents receive notification that GATE-testing season is around the corner.

It is a bitter pill for a small private tutoring company that has been providing the service in Santa Barbara for years, and which now feels unfairly maligned. But officials at the Santa Barbara elementary school district say the practice is wrong, and should stop immediately.

“It’s not an appropriate thing to do, because it is supposed to be a cold test,” said Robin Sawaske, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary education, referring to how the test is meant to measure innate ability. And “if you’re talking about equity issues — only people who can afford it tend to take advantage of it.”

Children who have received prepping — or whose parents are caught lying — will not get into the program, school officials said.

The rub actually started a few years ago, when the district learned that the local Dubin Learning Center  was giving students a prep test that was exactly the same as the IQ test elementary students were taking to get into GATE.

The center, a husband-wife duo that works out of a Victorian house downtown, promptly stopped administering the particular test. But they resumed using similar practice tests. Now, the district is trying to snuff out the practice for good.

Dubin co-founder Deidre Dubin said she finds the district’s strident stance against her service deeply upsetting.

“I’m an educator, so I’ve always held myself as a very ethical person,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been put in a position that really questions our integrity.”

Although GATE prepping constitutes just a small part of her business, Dubin said she doesn’t plan to stop. She maintains that preparing for a GATE test is no different than the now socially acceptable practice of preparing for the SAT exam.

"There’s no test you can’t prepare for," she said.

Dubin said the very notion of GATE prepping — and intelligence itself — is not as black and white as many people would like to believe.

“They claim it is a test you can’t prepare for because it tests an innate ability — but how do you define intelligence?” she said.

Dubin, who started the local learning center nearly 30 years ago with her husband, Barry, said they were trained in Los Angeles at the Marianne Frostig Center for Educational Therapy — a “pioneer in the field.”  There, they learned to discover — and then improve upon — weaknesses in a child’s cognitive ability. All this requires using IQ tests.

“The brain is considered to be plastic — malleable,” she said. “So regardless of whether it is used for GATE preparation, I think it’s a good thing to be doing with children — to be enhancing their cognitive ability.”

Dubin acknowledged that prepping tends to serve the more affluent families who can afford the $65-an-hour fee. But she said eliminating the prep service tends to give rise to other disparities. For instance, she said, kids from private schools aren’t accustomed to taking so many tests, and thus come to the public school setting at a disadvantage.

Plus, some of the less affluent students are allowed to pay on a sliding scale, she added.

Dubin said she suspects that the district’s policy — and resulting rumblings within the local parent and teacher community — may have taken a toll on her business. One thing is certain: Her enrollment is dropping. In the last three years, Dubin’s student base has shrunk from 70 students to 25, she said. The number of students receiving GATE-prep services has fallen from a dozen to six.

At least one local parent believes Dubin is getting a bad rap.

Conrad Curran, a parent at Washington Elementary, said his experience with Dubin over the years has been top-notch. He said it has benefited all three of his children, one of whom sailed into the GATE program with ease, and another who needed the extra help just to stay at grade level. Yet, he said, when he mentioned the center in passing to an administrator last year, she froze up, and told him that the district frowns upon the center’s GATE-prepping practice.

“We recommend Dubin all the time,” he said. “One or two of the moms have come back and said ‘We’ve kind of been warned not to go to Dubin.’ Warned not to get your child tutored by a couple of the best educators I’ve ever seen? That’s ridiculous.”

The issue of prepping for GATE isn’t confined to Santa Barbara. In Sacramento, the California Association for the Gifted takes a strong stance against it as well.

“Only rich people can afford the tutoring, and it becomes a very elitist program,” said Susan Seamons, the association’s executive director and former GATE teacher. “The kids from poverty, they couldn’t have that prep. They are competing against kids whose parents are trying to buy their way into the program.”

She added that in the case of students who have been prepped, the GATE test — which in Santa Barbara is called the Cognitive Abilities Test — measures little more than a student’s memory.

One local author believes the IQ test shouldn’t be used for determining GATE eligibility at all. Stephen Murdoch , author of “IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea,” is a critic of the IQ test, which he describes as a dated model.

“It hasn’t changed in the past century,” he said. “And we know a lot more about the brain now than they knew then.

“IQ tests do not test intelligence,” he added. “They test knowledge and some kind of hard-to-define abstract problem-solving ability.”

As for students who do well on the test, “in some at least narrow way they are smart,” he said. But the test, he said, does not predict how well a third-grader will perform in junior high, high school or beyond.

“I think it’s unfair to a student to have a high-stakes exam, which they take on one day, and which decides whether that child gets into GATE,” he said.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

Photo of Elizabeth Wagner
Elizabeth Wagner
"I typically do whatever it takes to properly expose the property and get it out to the widest possible audience."

Full Profile >

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >