Everybody knows that no two kids are ever alike. Whether we’re talking about sports, music, having artistic talent or any of the normally considered to be extra-curricular pursuits, there isn’t a parenting blog or educational professional around country that wouldn’t agree – kids just develop at different rates. No two children should be expected to have that same kind of talent as other kids at the exact same time – right?
Yet, when it comes to academics, comparing kids is the norm. We know it doesn’t feel quite right to compare our children to everyone else’s. But when teachers, publishers and test-makers print up the standards, it is impossible not to wonder how our kids are stacking up.
I think that as long as children are “on level”, even above, parents are fine with that. It can be a great relief to hear that kids fit the model of what a typical child of that age looks and acts like. It’s not likely you’ll meet a parent willing to dispute grades or tests on the basis that results are too high. We trust grade levels when our kids meet or exceed them.
On the other hand, when a child isn’t on level, or worse – is below – it hurts. Barring special learners who are different for other reasons, for the most part, parents know in their hearts when there isn’t anything really wrong with a child. But, because the grade level manual says so, they concede that there actually must be. There really must be something wrong with this child.
This makes me sad. I worry when I hear parents talk about how their child is a year “ahead” of other kids. But I am sad when I hear parents talk about children who are “behind”.
I have observed the body language and felt the palpable shame of parents who think they have one of these below-level children. I have watched as the other mothers chatter about good grades and above-average abilities while the mothers of the below-level kids turn very quiet.
Kids bloom at different rates, no question about it. Deep-down, parents know this. They understand that some 5 year olds can tie shoe-laces but others still can’t. They don’t care if some girls can braid their own hair while others can’t get the hang of it until they’re much older. They know that some boys aren’t afraid of the ball, but some boys would do anything not to get hit. And they make no excuses for a child who hasn’t a musical bone in her body but is really good at drama instead.
And yet book publishers and test makers hold out this imaginary measuring stick and parents coast to coast voluntarily reach for it. Worse, they buy into the results, hook, line and sinker. I don’t get it.
Grade levels are classifications given to school children. When you think about it, grade levels aren’t really anything but numbers used to classify, label, or otherwise brand children for the purpose of tracking milestones and monitoring school progression.
In homeschooling, although many parents do it anyhow, grade levels aren’t exactly required. That’s not to say that nobody keeps track of how many years of homeschooling a child has completed, or what that child may be capable of overall, but generally speaking, grade levels just aren’t as important.
In homeschooling, grades can be useful, for instance when approximating the kind of work that could be covered in a given year. They can also be very handy when buying books and materials that children of that age (grade) are probably capable of handling.
But grade levels should not be limiting.
If a particular child is not ready for grade-level work, why insist upon it? If another student is more than ready to hop a grade, maybe even two, why wait?
There is something about grades that is ingrained in the minds of some parents, particularly those who know nothing but grades from their own experience. This has the harmful effect of classifying children into groups where they sometimes do not belong. What magical transformation takes place during the summer months that suddenly merits moving a human being from one group (grade) to the next? Maybe the transformation took place months earlier. Or maybe it won’t happen until winter break.
Think loosely about grades in homeschool. While grade level can be an excellent guide, do not be locked into what other children in the same grade can or [you believe] should be doing. Every child is unique, and will be ready to join his grade-level counterparts soon enough. Pressing him harder than he is ready can backfire tremendously. Holding him in a grade too long can have equally devastating effects.
A characteristic of the normal child is he doesn’t act that way very often. ~Author Unknown