Monday, March 09, 2015
The Curse of Grade Level Standards
One of the things that I like most about homeschooling is that my children are not artificially constrained by “grade level” academics.
In a typical school, the children with advanced academic development are constrained to go along with the class. Children with a slower (and often normal) academic development are pressured to “perform” above their current capabilities. A few lucky children in the classroom match the academic expectations, at least in some subjects. It is a rare occasion for a child to perfectly match the classroom demands in all subjects and physical requirements.
What is the opportunity and emotional cost of this style of education? From discussions I’ve heard from my friends with children who have attended school, I believe the cost is very high.
I will use my own children for examples of how successful children can be without grade level imposed upon them..
My oldest daughter was a late reader and late at developing math skills. I admit that I made a lot mistakes with this first kid because I was trying so hard to “keep up” with their friends at school. It helped that when I was beginning to despair and resort to some really coercive measures in 2nd grade that my mother-in-law pointed out that my husband didn’t read fluently until the 5th grade. Once I redefined her development as “normal” for her, things got a lot better. Two years later when we did standardized testing, I was delighted to find that she had jumped from a Kindergarten level of reading in 2nd grade to a 12th grade level of reading in 4th grade.
By the time she started community college at 16 ½ years old, she handled math well and earned A’s in almost all her classes [She received a B in Voice which, considering that her father can barely carry a tune, is pretty darn good.] She did NOT do as many advanced math classes as some students in high school, but that option was and is still open to her now that she is ready through community college and university courses.
This helped her younger sister a great deal. My second daughter didn’t read fluently until 5th grade and was even later at developing math readiness than her older sister. Because I had seen the jump in her older sister’s capacity to read and do math when ready, I stopped worrying and pushing. Around the age of 16, she turned a corner developmentally. When this burst occurred, she didn’t have bad high school transcript because of her slower pace to weigh her down during the college application process. This daughter also earned A’s in community college and was accepted to a prestigious university.
Surprisingly, my 3rd daughter taught herself to read and does math at the level typical of the schools in our area with little effort on my part. If she had been in a traditional classroom, she would have gotten A’s. The school system wouldn’t have been as damaging to her as it would have been for her sisters. Although, she would have missed out on the freedom to pursue her own interest.
Our youngest child is developmentally on an entirely different track. By “school standard,” he is grades behind. I’ve had to be more creative (and that is a post all its own). We celebrate every milestone and have really enjoyed seeing him bloom at his own pace and in his own season. Because we have little preconceived notions about what should happen when, he does not carry emotional baggage associated with academics.
This was evident at an IEP meeting at the school last year. [Even though we homeschool, we utilized the testing and evaluation services that the public school provides.] The school psychologist said that they have never seen before a kid with his level of impairment that didn’t have “social impairment.” They described him as “socially sophisticated.”
Their report said that “…he came to the testing situation willing and appeared at ease….He initiated conversation….He was very cooperative and well-behaved. He seemed happy, often wearing a smile on his face. He wobbled his upper body and head sometimes after giving out an answer as if he felt self-satisfied…..He was never shy or hesitant to speak. He made comments and expressed his feelings about the tasks at hand……Overall, he was a happy, compliant, attentive and engaged. It was a pleasure working with him."
I do not think any of those things would be true if our son had gone to school and had been pressured to follow the grade level expectations. He does not see himself as being behind or as being “broken.”
In an ideal world, every child would have access to an individual educational plan that matched his/her needs. That is easy to do on a homeschool setting.
When I was a child in a traditional school (1970’s), about half of the teachers used a flexible learning plan that accommodated many levels of students. For example, each student worked his/her way through a set of reading/science assignments at his/her own rate. In 4th grade, I made it through the entire set. I don’t know what my class mates did. I do remember some discussion amongst ourselves about who got to Silver and Gold. I don’t remember their being any sort of stigma attached to which “color” group you were in.
In 5th grade, I was allowed to work ahead in the math book. I finished it and was allowed to work through two more math books. I can’t imagine that happening today in classroom with “common core” or other grade defined standards imposed.
We still value academic progress and are putting effort toward that goal, but we don’t worship it. We have bigger and better goals than that.