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July 16, 1999


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12-Year-Old Who Scored Perfect SAT Score Wants To Remain A `Regular' Kid

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Sonia Chopra

Vinodhini (Vino) Vasudevan When Vinodhini (Vino) Vasudevan says she wants to keep away from the media, many people are surprised

How can the first 12-year-old to score a perfect 1,600 on the SAT want to keep away from the media, many wonder. The test is conducted for gifted children by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Of the 600,000 gifted seventh- and eighth-graders the program has tracked through two decades, Vino is the first to earn perfect scores on both the math and verbal portions of the college-admissions test, said Claudia Burns, program coordinator.

But Vino insists she's no different from her friends, and she tries hard to fit in at the Waluga Junior High School in Oregon.

Vasu Vasudevan, her father, said that Vino, a quiet, reserved girl is startled by the media attention and has turned down requests to be interviewed except for one local paper The Oregonian because she said to her parents, "It's my scores, my test and I don't want to share them with everyone."

"I keep straight A's, but I'm not at a higher level [than the other kids in class]. They think I'm super smart, but there are a lot of kids here who do well," said Vino in an interview. She is currently in Tamil Nadu, visiting her grandparents. Vino left on June 22, a few days after she was honored by the Johns Hopkins Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth in an awards ceremony held at the Portland State University during the first weekend of the month.

"I agree with her. We are very proud of her and her accomplishments but we want to stay away from the limelight," said Vasudevan, who requested that details of their lives, such as the neighborhood they live in, their places of employment and other personal information not be made public.

"We are very, very proud of our daughter but we don't want her to be a adult. We want her to enjoy her childhood and grow and mature before we make her skip grades and go to college," said Vasudevan, 40, who has been advised to send his daughter straight to college.

Vino, who skipped third grade, did not want to go through that experience again. "The other kids wondered, `why is she around?' " she said in an interview. "It was weird being around kids who were older."

Vasudevan said he and his wife Pushpa, 35, a preschool teacher, know that Vino is gifted and they have always tried to challenge and stimulate her advanced intellect, but they do not want to push her into a life -- an adult's life -- that is she not ready for, socially and emotionally.

"We know she will get the highest marks there and will probably be the brightest child in every class in college but she will still be the youngest child and will lack the social skills to cope with adults outside the classroom," said Vasudevan, who work as a electronics material engineer at a Lake Oswego company.

Vasudevan said his daughter and his son Kavin, 8, are exceptional and always have been so. Vino was counting at age 2, reading by 4 and solving college math problems at 8 and now she reads at least two books a week, while her classmates can barely get through the 80 minutes of assigned reading per week.

Vasudevan said Vino would read the newspapers at age 4 and "while she did not understand the sentences, she would sound out the words" and while they "are happy that she is curious and is ahead of other people", they are against her skipping grades, which she has only done once -- in third grade.

Vino has also won spelling and math competitions at the county and state level and her room is decorated with these and other awards, Vasudevan said. She also plays the violin and is part of the All State Junior School Honor Orchestra for Oregon State.

Vasudevan, who said his family immigrated from India when Vino was a few months old, added they make every attempt to keep her challenged by enrolling her in special math and music classes. She did algebra when she was 8 years old and now she takes computer classes and advanced mathematics at Portland Community College a couple times a week.

"We are going to put her in all advanced classes in physics, biology, chemistry and English and if she is still bored, we will think of something else," said Vasudevan of their plans for September.

"But we want her to have her childhood and teen years. She wants to be with her friends and have all these experiences," he continued. "And even though we know that some people think we should send her to college, we are confident that we are making the right decision."

At Johns Hopkins, Claudia Burns who has studied thousands of similar cases with gifted children, is familiar with the agonizing dilemma that the parents are put in. "It's obvious when a child does so well in her SATs that she is not being sufficiently challenged academically but they are worried about putting too much weight on a child's shoulders," Burns said.

The Johns Hopkins Talent Search selects students who score in the 97th percentile of state tests for their grade level and asks them to take the SAT. "Often parents suspect that their child is more than just bright but they are not sure how bright and this [the program] puts it in perspective for them," Burns said.

The university recognizes students who receive top scores and conducts summer and long-distance programs, which is not an option that Vino has decided to decline for now.

And high SAT scores are very helpful and will command respect in college application. "It's a significant educational accomplishment. It's the educational equivalent of being hit by lightning," said Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey. Ewing said out of the 2.2 million who took SAT last year, only 673 had a perfect score.

Still being gifted and bright can make a child stand out like a sore thumb at school.

"People are not used to someone being so smart. They are not sure how to react at first but once they get to know her, they like her. She's really nice," said Erica Czerniejewski, 14, who is Vino's best friend and has known her for the last 18 months.

The news of Vino's perfect scores did not surprise the teachers and the principal.

"She has consistently been a high achiever and yet she never draws any attention to herself. She is a demure, unassuming young lady who has never flaunted her academic excellence,' said Principal Jonnie Shobaki, 52, who has been a teacher and an assistant principal in her 30-year-career.

Vino's decision to complete school and then go to college is hailed by Max Weiss, 65, who had spent many afternoons for an entire year teaching Vino theoretical mathematics at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"She is an extremely gifted child in many, many ways. Her verbal, math and reasoning skills are quite extraordinary. She is like a sponge, she soaks up everything and wants more and is mature beyond her years," said Weiss, now retired and is a professor emeritus at UC at Santa Barbara, who taught Vino four years ago, before the family moved to Oregon.

"When they [gifted children] learn advanced stuff, they learn it as children. They grasp the basics quickly but they cannot go very deep and understand everything because they don't have the maturity," said Weiss, who 18 years ago got involved with a college where there was a creative studies program where he dealt with 30 gifted children.

"They don't have a philosophy of life yet so I think her decision to defer college is a good one," said Weiss. "She wants to wait to grow up. That is a real sign of intellect and true achievement."

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