Calling all teachers — measuring students’ intelligence

From the editor: Students with epilepsy do poorer in school when compared with students managing other chronic medical conditions, even when the epilepsy is well controlled. There is much speculation as to the reasons why this occurs. Blogger Amy Mittinger shares her experiences of being a student and living with epilepsy. Amy is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University.

The Epilepsy Association has developed resources to help educators facilitate the best learning environment for the student with epilepsy. Our programs are free of charge.  Presentations for faculty meetings require only 30 minutes. Classroom programs are available for grades K-12. Additionally, The Be SMART About Epilepsy resource is available for free download from our website. The program provides chapters for every adult in the school setting including bus drivers, safety personnel, coaches, nurses, teachers, aides, and social workers. For more information, please call the Epilepsy Association at 216-579-1330, or e-mail info@epilepsyinfo.org.

We invite you to share your experiences with living with epilepsy. For more information, please contact us at blog@epilepsyinfo.org.

Amy Mittinger with Father at her OSU commencement

Amy Mittinger with Father at her OSU commencement

Calling all teachers — measuring students’ intelligence

If a student aces a test about the periodic table, history dates, or on Spanish vocabulary, that is undoubtedly impressive. But think about it: is that a measure of their intelligence? Or just their memory?

I never challenged this incongruity in the past as a student. If anything, I used it to my advantage. I read course content, memorized it, regurgitated it on tests, and wah-lah! The “A”s were returned in hordes.

But notice that the term “learn” didn’t appear once in that process. Only after developing epilepsy in tenth grade did I notice this, and then encounter a problem. I experienced seizures in a part of my brain that inhibited not my intelligence or even physical stability, but just my memory. So, the goal of memorizing and reciting information on tests became less reachable in high school. And almost impossible in college. To worsen things, every class consisted of nothing but lectures and tests. So, like all students, my grade was measured by nothing but continuous recitation of facts on Scantron sheets.

I was never given the option to prove my intelligence in other ways. This left me no choice but to introduce, even defend, myself to professors as the “memory impaired” epileptic student who needed assistance taking tests.

I’ll save you the specifics, and summarize that more often than not, I lost the battle. It was disheartening. I failed to prove my intelligence to people who never even attempted to understand me initially. And my grades suffered as a result. I had to repeat a couple classes due to receiving failing grades. (Again, grades based on nothing but a total of two cumulative exams, mind you.)

So, what’s my point? It isn’t to fight my teachers, the “bad guys.” Rather, it’s to help them distinguish between all students’ memory and intelligence… and stress that one (memory) should not define the other (intelligence). I know that for some students, the two may coincide perfectly. But for others like me, when the two are off balance, adjustments should be made. And there are a variety of options for this: open-book timed tests, essay tests, class projects, and more.

Such adjustments are both feasible and doable. Not to mention that actual learning takes place more frequently here than via cumulative exams. So teachers, I’m calling on you to bridge this gap and make it happen… for your students.

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