Home > Uncategorized > “Ahead” or “Behind”, “Better Than” or “Worse Than” Are Mental Constructs Are the Basis for Sorting and Selecting Students. Will the Pandemic Disabuse Us of These Notions?

“Ahead” or “Behind”, “Better Than” or “Worse Than” Are Mental Constructs Are the Basis for Sorting and Selecting Students. Will the Pandemic Disabuse Us of These Notions?

I subscribe to the New Yorker magazine and have a habit of reading through them from cover to cover in sequence. Because of this habit and because reading the New Yorker is not my most urgent priority, I have a stack of them next to my bed that dates back to mid-January. My two daughters are also subscribers to the New Yorker, and one daughter has taken up my reading habits but my other daughter looks each edition over and reads only items that interest her, writers she admires, or articles that her husband recommends. Upon the arrival of the next week’s edition, she discards the old one. I learned about this difference in reading habits a few summers ago when we were all on the beach and I commented to my younger daughter that I looked forward to catching up on my New Yorkers, and my older daughter concurred. My younger daughter’s reaction was “How can you be behind?” She reminded us that we were not in school, that no one was requiring us to read the New Yorkers cover-to-cover, and no one would be testing us on the contents.

Her observation reminded me that “Behind” is a mental construct… behind WHAT? This construct is especially germane when it comes to schooling. This just in: learning has NEVER been precisely mapped against age! When we say that a child is “reading at the 6th grade level” it conveys the notion that there is a precise set of skills that are mastered by all children in 6th. That isn’t the case. The “sixth grade level” is based on the number of correct answers an average sixth-grade students gets correct. It is a statistical artifact. Children who read more proficiently than their peers are viewed as being “AHEAD” while children who experience difficulty are viewed as being “BEHIND”. Those who are “ahead” may be so for a host of reasons. It may be that their families place a high value on reading and spent hours reading to their children and hours where their children have observed THEM reading. They may also have a talent for decoding, a talent that our culture and schools place a premium on. Those who are “behind” may have a similar set of causes and conditions that contribute to their relative placement.

But here’s the ultimate question for those who are concerned about children “falling behind”. Does is matter how one eighth grader compared to another in the long run?

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