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01:44 PM CDT on Friday, May 27, 2005
By MIKE JACKSON / The Dallas Morning News
FRISCO – There is a Mikey Roberts in every elementary school class. He talks a lot, he can’t sit still and he’s pushy – the one most likely to get in trouble. Troubled teens. Schools for troubled teens. Programs for troubled teens. Troubled teen schools. Troubled teen programs. Homes for troubled teens. Camps for Troubled Teens. Christian boarding schools. Troubled Teen Help. Military Schools. Boot Camps. Boot Camps for Troubled Youth. Troubled Youth. Troubled Teens.
MELANIE BURFORD / DMN
Seth Elledge, a student at Smith Elementary School in Frisco, takes a personality test with assistant principal Stevie Pudik. His teachers say students like Mikey are often misunderstood. Mikey also is a people-oriented person with a domineering personality. Said another way, he’s a natural leader.
That’s what a personality test said about the first-grader at Smith Elementary School in Frisco. He and 370 classmates are part of a rare pilot program designed to help teachers manage their students.
Though common in corporate settings, personality tests are seldom used in schools. Corporate executives rely on them to assemble dream teams; Smith’s teachers use the results to capitalize on students’ strengths and better understand the natural impulses of each child.
“This helps explain the unexplainable. It tells you why a kid behaves a certain way,” said Mikey’s teacher, Julie Hill.
Experts say personality tests can be beneficial if teachers use the information to draw out shy students, for example, or give latitude to those who are more aggressive. But they cautioned that results could lead to labels that could bog students down.
“Maybe it could give the teachers a better understanding of what children are like,” said Marilou Hyson, senior research adviser with the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “I think that with young children, especially, we have to be cautious about drawing any conclusions.”
Mikey’s mother, Dawn Roberts, said the test was a blessing. She immediately recognized traits outlined in her son’s assessment, but more important, the results were confirmation that he was normal.
“Mikey is just a very energetic kid who has to keep busy or he gets bored,” Ms. Roberts said. “He’s the one who is going to come into the living room with underwear on his head because he knows it’s going to make you laugh.”
There’s no doubt that 7-year-old Mikey is a challenge, she said. She said a few kindergarten teachers met him during an orientation and didn’t want him in their class. A preschool teacher even suggested that he be tested for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He was tested, but he had no disorders.
It’s not unusual for Mikey to get frustrated at school. In a recent class, Ms. Hill grouped her first-graders in teams of four to work on an in-class research project about whales and dolphins. The groups huddled in front of computers for the hourlong assignment.
Not long after they started, Mikey left his group to file a complaint with Ms. Hill.
“I told them to work on the floor, but they wouldn’t,” Mikey said.
“That’s part of working in a group,” she replied.
Ms. Hill said it was important to make sure Mikey learned to handle the situation on his own and use his outgoing nature to help the group work together.
12 minutes, 12 years
Robert Rohm, a former teacher and principal who runs a 15-year-old Atlanta consulting firm, Personality Insights, designed the test for students. Dr. Rohm, who works most often with corporations, said he learned the value of a personality test for youngsters years ago.
“When my eldest daughter was 12, we were living in Mesquite and just having a tough time with her,” he said. “A friend of mine suggested giving her a personality test. I did so, and it told me more about Rachel in 12 minutes than I knew in 12 years.”
The test is designed to be easy and fun, he said. Students view colorful pictures of robots in 24 settings, and they are asked to select the robots they would be most like and most unlike. At a rodeo, for instance, a child could choose among a bull rider, a spectator, a clown or an event coordinator.
Answers determine whether a child has primarily a Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive or Cautious personality, according to the assessment. Everyone has a blending of all four traits but leans toward one. Smith Elementary received Dr. Rohm’s services free in a pilot program.
“Personality tests are extremely rare with children,” said Teresa Williams, an instructor of personality psychology at Southern Methodist University. “I like the idea that these guys are looking at them as individuals.”
But Dr. Williams said test results may not be reliable because personalities evolve.
People are born with some degree of personality and it develops as they age, she said. An outgoing kindergartner, for example, may become more introverted as she gets older. Psychologists see personalities take firmer hold when people reach their late teens or early 20s.
“You see temperamental tendencies at birth, but we see personality change clearly through adolescence,” Dr. Williams said. “Most personality psychologists really believe that personality continues to change throughout a lifetime.”
Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Cult of Personality, about such tests, questions their usefulness and points out their potential harmful effects. She interviewed a man who once took the widely administered Myers-Briggs test and said he claimed his company used the results as a “bludgeon.”
“With adults, as with children, there is some stereotyping,” Ms. Paul said. “While that impulse [to test] is admirable, I don’t think personality tests are the way to go.”
Smith principal Matthew Kimball said test results provide yet another slice of information about students that would be helpful to their instructors. Teachers also use information from tests to measure academic skills and assess learning styles to help them reach students with differing strengths.
“This by no means will be used to pigeonhole students,” Mr. Kimball said. “This is one tool in the bag of tools teachers use.”
Assistant principal Stevie Pudik said that although results are used to identify a student’s natural personality tendencies, every child has a blend of all four traits. The dominant child would be more direct and demanding. The inspiring personality seeks the limelight and is interactive. Supportive personalities are the steady, calming influence in a group. The cautious type is contemplative and calculating.
“You need all of them to get a job done,” Ms. Pudik. “We encourage the students to try on other personalities and strengthen other areas.”
Li Miao said her son, Nathan, 6, had strengths she didn’t realize he had.
“We were always concerned about his shyness,” Ms. Miao said.
That is, until Nathan took the personality test. His teacher, Julie Gutierrez, said Nathan’s results showed that he was more outgoing than his parents thought, even though he was mild-mannered and often shy at home and in school.
After she saw his results, Ms. Gutierrez chose Nathan to give the opening remarks before the musical Little Red Hen.
“We were really surprised that he handled it very well,” Ms. Miao said. “It was really an eye-opening experience for us. It made us think twice. Now I feel like we should never assume anything, and let him try things.”
Freelance writer Natalie Medigovich contributed to this report.