Edmonds Kind of Dad: Challenging the Edmonds School District’s Challenge Program

David Kaufer
David Kaufer

I admit it: I’m a proud father.

But when you have a son who counted to 100 at the age of 2, studied and understood the U.S. highway system at the age of 4, and explained weather patterns to teachers in 2nd grade, you know you have a pretty special kid on your hands.

Every teacher, coach, and adult who knows Ty say the same thing: “He thinks differently – unlike any other child I’ve ever met.”

Ty was a hit when interviewed by John Cook of GeekWire!
Ty was a hit when interviewed by John Cook of GeekWire!


Recognizing Ty’s gifts early on, Renee and I were tasked with the challenge of keeping him engaged and interested in traditional classroom work and activities. At his Kindergarten teacher’s suggestion, we had him tested for the district’s “Challenge Program.” When we learned he wasn’t accepted in the program at that time due to his test scores, we weren’t too concerned because we thought that it would be good for Ty to attend the local school and build social relationships with other local students. We also realized that he probably just didn’t test well at such a young age.

Unfortunately and precisely because of Ty’s advanced cognitive ability, he struggles to identify with his peers and maintain friendships at school. It’s been heart-breaking hearing him cry and ask why other kids won’t be his friends at his current school over the past 3 years. His teachers have also noted that its sometimes difficult keeping Ty engaged in the classwork as he finishes his work far faster than his classmates and sits isolated the rest of the class time. After discussions with his teacher and school advisors, we decided it was time again to try to get Ty into the Challenge Program for 4th grade.

While Ty has exceptional intellectual abilities, he sometimes struggles in traditional timed, testing environments. This has been an issue throughout his academic career and his teachers have worked with him to overcome his anxiety and provide less stressful environments/situations when possible. However, this option isn’t possible when it comes to testing for the Challenge program.

We were optimistic that his additional experience in testing environments would help him to score high enough in the CogAT 6 test that is required by the Edmonds School District. So we were disappointed when we received a letter from the District at the end of January notifying us that he didn’t qualify for the Challenge Program based on the scores.

The world is full of amazingly gifted and talented people who excel in many areas of cognitive ability – but simply don’t perform well in structured testing environments. Ty is one of these individuals.

As the National Association for Gifted Children points out, “Tests are common assessment tools for identification, but should not serve as the sole source of identification…An identification strategy that includes multiple assessments—both objective and subjective—is the best way to ensure no gifted learner is overlooked.” The Association advises that when it comes to identifying gifted children, “Because no two gifted children are alike is important to collect information on both the child’s performance and potential through a combination of objective (quantifiably measured) and subjective (personally observed) identification instruments in order to identify gifted and talented students.”

When we told Ty’s teacher and others at his school that he wasn’t accepted in the Challenge Program, they were stunned and immediately wrote letters of recommendation as part of the appeal process. We quickly learned that the Edmonds School District wasn’t exactly supportive of parents appealing the decision, per their website:

Appeal Process If your student did not qualify as gifted, you do have an option to appeal the decision. Most families with lower-than-expected CogAT scores do not appeal. If your child is doing well in school and is enjoying and thriving in his/her current experience, you probably should not appeal. If however, you believe your child’s performance is in the very superior range in comparison to peers, you may want to consider making an appeal. In order to support the Appeal process, compelling supportive evidence beyond the CogAT 6 test that was given to your student is needed. To complete the Appeal process, you may submit a few copies of your student’s work (no originals), teacher letters of reference, and current report card that strongly supports the student’s eligibility as a student who is academically gifted. Please choose one additional Cognitive Ability test that will help the MSC review your student’s appeal. The most commonly used additional Cognitive Ability Measure is the WISC IV. A state licensed psychologist must give the test and costs vary according to the test and the psychologist you choose.
• Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC IV)
• Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI)
• Stanford Binet Cognitive Assessment V
• Woodcock Johnson Cognitive Assessment Scales III

We decided to appeal the decision and learned that the cost of private testing was upwards of $500, depending on the professional used for the testing. Now, we already know that Ty doesn’t test well but this in and of itself doesn’t mean he’s not gifted. Because of the high cost of testing coupled with the fact that such private psychologists had waiting lists for such testing, we were not able to provide additional private testing results as part of our appeal.

While I was hopeful that Ty would be accepted into the program after his initial testing, I was highly confident that he would be accepted based on our appeal. We provided compelling evidence of Ty’s exceptional abilities despite structured test scores along with exemplary letters of recommendation from faculty members of his school. Surely the committee would understand that there are exceptional and gifted children who may not test well but should be part of the program – especially if every teacher that student has ever had considers him to be gifted.

So it goes without saying that we were crushed when we received another letter from the District rejecting Ty and our appeal from the gifted program. The primary reason? “The Committee looked at all the appeal and testing information, work samples, and exemplary letters from teachers; but they did not have any additional cognitive tests to compare with the CogAT scores. In Challenge, students are expected to identify and solve complex programs, explore concepts in greater depth and complexity and be able to work at a much higher level than students in the regular program.”

So in other words, the committee doesn’t care what Ty’s teachers think. Or about his work samples or report cards. The only criteria they are using is test scores. We are saddened that families who cannot afford private testing are not allowed into the challenge program. Paying out of pocket for additional testing for the purpose of appeal puts an advantage on wealthy families and unfairly punishes those who cannot afford such private sessions. In our case, we priced out the private testing opportunities to find they are quite expensive and we ran out of time to find alternative means.

We were very explicit in our appeal letter that Ty just doesn’t test well in timed, structured settings, but that given additional opportunities to prove his abilities, he would outperform expectations.

While the most recent letter said that the committee’s decision is final, we’re not settling for defeat yet because we know how important this is for Ty’s education and development. We’re currently exploring legal and other options, including discussions with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds. The process is broken and it needs to be fixed so that Ty and other deserving and neglected students are not unfairly excluded.

— By David Kaufer

David Kaufer is a fun-loving Super Dad of 8-year-old twin sons, an insane Oregon Ducks fanatic (follow him on Twitter @DavidKaufer), advocate for green/sustainability and autism issues, and connoisseur of Northwest microbrews. He and his wife Renee moved to Edmonds in 2005 to raise their family (and enjoy the gorgeous views).

13 Replies to “Edmonds Kind of Dad: Challenging the Edmonds School District’s Challenge Program”

  1. My 2 ‘kids’ are in their twenties and came through the Edmonds School District. Although very different academically and emotionally they both were offered classes and programs that fit their needs. My daughter completing the EWHS full IB program and graduating from Williams College in MA in 2012. My son took a different route graduating from MHS and is currently taking a gap year. We were fortunate and thankful the district and teachers
    provided opportunities that met their varying needs. But the district cant meet all the needs of students on the fringe. Some kids are very unique and special. For these kids (as the first post mentioned) a private education or home schooling may be best. My guess-your boy will settle emotionally and do fine in any test enviroment as he moves forward;whether its in the ESD or elsewhere. Soundview School may be worth a look?


  2. I appreciate the two comments above, but the point is that my husband and I both work full time and still have trouble paying for private testing, so it is not reasonable to offer private schooling or home schooling as options to us. If we could afford private schooling, and we have explored this several times, we would have done that by now.
    The point of the blog is to point out that exceptional talents are not only determined via biased test scores, but rather through multiple identifiers that the Edmonds School District fails to do. Imagine how many kids are left behind because other families like us cannot afford private testing, private schools, or private tutors.
    As soon as the Edmonds School District realizes this and perhaps aligns with the National Association for Gifted Children (https://www.nagc.org/), more children will received the advanced curriculum they deserve.


  3. Why not give the boy a chance in the actual setting? Too much emphasis is placed on testing, especially since so many tests do not take into account uniqueness in children. My oldest son was given a test for a gifted program over 40 years ago. One question was to finish the sequence: “The cat ate 2 fish. The cat ate 4 fish. The cat ate—-fish.” He answered the question with “The cat ate the poor fish.” He didn’t get in the program–then. He is a very caring and compassionate adult today. P.S. He was right about the fish!


  4. @ Dorothy Sacks: I agree whole-heartedly with your statement about too much emphasis being placed on testing, and that it does not take into account the real abilities of the child. This is a child that could be slipping though the cracks of education, while tests do not, in fact, do the job we expect them to do. Tests only label people and track them into groups. Disgusting that if the family wants him to get an education that is beneficial to Ty, it costs them way too much money to prove their son’s ability. I further agree that they could try the boy out in in the special setting for a few months, and see how that goes. Is the bottom line for that also having to do with how much money the parents would have to spend? With schools everywhere losing students, never engaging them enough, and poor results from the constant testing given to kids, how can he ever get better at it to qualify?


  5. WOW really? Why don’t we make his parents grovel at the feet of the ESD? They are Telling you (not so gifted people) to put him in the environment of the “Challenge program” and watch him excel and exceed expectations. But no !!! The ESD responds with the appeal process, which the parents complete and they still DENY! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? perhaps they liked the heartbreaking comment his parents made about Ty not being liked by the kids in his classes. Or the teachers note about him completing his work and sitting by himself because he finished the work well ahead of the other children. Thats great!!! It sounds like the ESD has no concern for Ty or the opportunity his parents are begging you people to consider.
    At this point I pray Ty gets the advanced classes he needs (I’m sure he will with his dedicated parents) then he reaches the highest level of the ESD and FIRES YOU ALL!!!! Good luck mom and dad I wish you the best!!!


  6. Every school district receives funding to provide a free and appropriate education for each child. If it cannot provide an appropriate education for Ty, it should cover the cost of a private school that can.


    1. AMEN to that!!! So ESD what now? Still going to let Ty sit alone IN class and deny him the education that helps him grow and Challenge his brilliant mind? I hope you make the right decision.


  7. Or even help with the process of getting Ty a scholarship, so he can get into a private school . . . not a Charter School please . . . that will best help him get those advanced classes. I’m certain there are other children who would also benefit from such help. Isn’t ESD considered one of the better, or even best, school districts in our state ? As a former teacher and social worker, I find this to be heart-wrenching. Or help the family find an appropriate tutor to help with the advanced studies he needs to challenge him. The fact that the parents have to appeal through a newspaper to get assistance is appalling to me. But I hope and pray it works, and ESD does something to actually help Ty.


  8. In many respects, Ty is your average 9 yr. old boy. But that’s not the sum total of Ty Kaufer. While visiting in Orlando, FL instead of going to any of the major theme parks he wanted to go to the Orlando Science Center. Jeopardy is one of his favorite TV shows. On any given evening I’ve seen him get 5 or 6 questions right. Most adults can’t match that. Ty is indeed gifted and curious. The fact that this doesn’t always show in testing is not unusual.
    Testing in general in schools should be used as a tool to aid in evaluating a student, not a deciding factor. Teachers should have a more valuable impact in this regard rather then a test.
    I can only hope that Ty will get a fair evaluation that will allow him to reach his true potential.


  9. Please go ahead and get help through gofunding.com for his appeal for the challenge program. There might be many who can come forward OR go to a private school and tell them about his Excellency and exceptional work. They might take him in as a scholarship student. You never know.


  10. My husband and I had our oldest tested as a Kindergartener and as a 1st grader and he didn’t get in – due to teachers in 2nd and 3rd grade talking to us several times to have him retested – we did have him retested in 3rd and he tested in high 90’s in all three areas – I was really surprised by the dramatic difference in his test scores from previous years – and it has made me wonder a lot about the testing process. He is thriving at the Challenge program this year and his teacher has confirmed that he definitely should be in the program. It sounds like Ty is a perfect candidate for the program too – I would see what the next step is to appeal again – I know that the administration isn’t trying to be difficult – and that their goals in testing is to identify only gifted kids and not just parents who want their kids in a gifted program – but Ty seems like an obvious choice for the gifted program and hopefully going “up the chain” will provide a better outcome. My husband and I would be happy to help you all pay for private testing for Ty if that is what it comes down to (please email us) but you all are correct it isn’t okay that kids who teachers identify as strong candidates are not given equal opportunity due to financial constraints – and hopefully the district can resolve this issue.


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