Over the weekend the Herald ran a story lamenting the number of new entrants who failed Ministry of Education expecations that they able to count to 20, knowing the alphabet, recognize colours and be able to write their own name before they started school.
I wasn’t able to write my name when I started school and actually couldn’t write my own name after a year at school (but that’s another post for another day). It wasn’t that my parents were indifferent to my education, far from it. My mother is a teacher, and it was through her experience of teaching the littlies where she saw kids who would probably benefit from a few extra months in pre-school rather than be pushed off to school simply because they turned five that she decided that she didn’t want to push me into activities before I was ‘ready.’ However if I showed interest in something, my parents where more than willing to help develop those interests whether it be listening to me read the same story for the umpteenth time or going out for ice blocks after I split my lip doing jumps on my bike with the much-older neighbour boy.
There seems to be a lot of credence given to the idea that a child hitting development milestones ‘early’ is automatically seen as a gifted thus parents seem to have gotten it into their heads that premature development is best. It isn’t unheard of for anxious parents to start intelligence-boosting activities long before said child has actually exited the womb. And if their kid isn’t hitting the mark parents minds often travel down all sorts of frightening pathways of learning disabilities, autism as some sort of explanation as to this deviation from “normal .” But the truth is that “normal” has very broad parameters and it can be very easy to stick a label on a kid even if it isn’t the right one.
Of course there’s a special breed of parents who seem to take joy in rubbing in the superior achievements of their children at the expense of others. However there is no indication that minor variations in the achievement of milestones have any relationship to later abilities or disabilities. Most people know kids develop at their own pace and that development might not always be linear. For instance a five year old might have the reading age of a much higher level but struggle to ride a bike. But what’s important for parents is that they know what’s ‘normal’ and that their offspring are doing as well as or if not better than the average bear.
Undoubtedly in response to all this angst about kids being ‘at least’ normal is a requirement that primary and intermediate schools will have to measure the progress of all children against nationally set benchmarks from next year. While information is a good thing, one of the strengths of our current system is that teachers teach children according to their own abilities. In any given classroom or indeed any particular subject there’s going to be a range of ability levels amongst students. However these sort of testing regimes lead to teachers teaching according to the school year, rather than their students’ ability level. It's absolutely absurd to believe that all students are working at the same level simply because they were born within a year of each other but we are going to test just to make sure.
The big losers are undoubtedly going to be those on both ends of the bell curves. Gifted children are going to see their meager extra resources redirected towards ensuring as many kids meet the required skill levels. While kids at the bottom end will undoubtedly start being pushed out in order for schools to bolster their scores. But that's normal right?