Girl Gets Perfect Score On SAT Test -- 12-Year-Old Determined To Remain Regular Kid

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. - Vino Vasudevan's eighth-grade classmates notice she always has the right answers whenever her teachers ask questions.

They think she may be the smartest kid in class.

She also may be the smartest kid in Oregon.

Vino is the first 12-year-old to score a perfect 1,600 on the SAT in a national search 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 Waluga Junior High School.

She sits at her desk in language-arts class in jeans, her long, black hair pulled into a ponytail. Her black binder is opened to a plot exercise from "Call of the Wild." She always has her hand raised in class, but she never likes to talk about her achievements.

"I keep straight A's, but I'm not at a higher level," says Vino, who was born in India. "They think I'm super smart, but there are a lot of kids here who do well."

No one does as well as Vino. She was counting at age 2, reading by 4 and solving college math problems at 8. While her classmates are assigned to read 80 minutes a week, her hunger for knowledge takes her to the school library, where she devours 1,000 pages of books every week.

In many ways, Vino leads a double life.

She hasn't told her friends or teachers about her SAT score. At home, she practices a Vivaldi concerto on her violin until it's time to watch reruns of the "Brady Bunch." In her room, her awards from math and spelling competitions sit on her night stand with Disney figures from "The Little Mermaid" and "Snow White."

Vino's parents, who immigrated to the United States when Vino was an infant, want to foster her gifts but don't want to push her into adulthood.

"It is tough enough to be the youngest person in the class," said her mother, Pushpa, a preschool teacher. "Besides, she is so happy now. She likes her friends and is looking forward to starting ninth grade. We don't want to spoil this for her."

Her father, an engineer for a Lake Oswego firm, has been advised to send his daughter straight to college.

"You can get a degree any time," says Vasu Vasudevan. "But when she grows up, she has to be a part of society. . . . We don't want her to be different from the other students."

Burns, the Johns Hopkins researcher, says she understands why parents want to protect children such as Vino, but eighth grade simply does not challenge her.

"People just don't understand how bright these kids really are," Burns says.

Some of her teachers said they think Vino is sufficiently challenged at Waluga. But one educator who knows her talents disagrees.

Max Weiss is a math professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who worked with Vino four years ago.

"She certainly would not be stimulated," he says. "It would be trivial for her."

For more than a year, Weiss spent many afternoons teaching 8-year-old Vino in an empty classroom on campus. They discussed theoretical math at a level that most college math majors would not understand, Weiss says, while Vino lectured Weiss on the Latin she learned in school.

Vino skipped third grade in Santa Barbara. That was the only grade she has skipped, and she and her parents don't want her to skip any more.

"The other kids kind of wondered, `Why is she here?' " Vino says. "It was weird being around kids who were older."

Burns, who has studied thousands of gifted children, recognizes the dilemma: An eighth-grade class does not stimulate a student such as Vino. But skipping grades is not necessarily the answer.

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. Burns says the university wants to help parents determine what their children can do.

The Vasudevans have sought everything from night courses to music to help challenge Vino's intellect.

Vino has played the violin since she was 7. A teacher suggested that music would be a good way to stimulate Vino.

But being exceptional is hard.

Vino's best friend, Erika Czerniejewski, 14, has seen how some students react to Vino.

"There are a few boys who are always trying to find out what her grades are and see if they can get better grades than her," Erika says. "They tease her a little, but mostly they're jealous."

Her parents don't know why their daughter is so smart. Their 8-year-old son, Kavin, is in second grade and reads at a third-grade level, but he's not as advanced as Vino was at that age.

Weiss says Vino is remarkable not only for her intellect but for her awareness of the joys of childhood.

"She doesn't mind growing up," he says. "She is willing to wait. Some gifted individuals don't know how."