No Average Child

This week I had the privilege of being a “reader” for two grade six boys who were completing their Provincial Achievement exams. I say privilege not only because they were exceptionally courteous and kind young men, but also because of the trust they placed in me to communicate the test questions clearly while they listened carefully. From my perch between them, I had a bird’s eye view of the expressions on their faces and their scribbled notes as they tried to reason their way through the problems that were presented. I also had the opportunity to see how they answered the questions. It was fascinating to see which of the “distractors” they entertained as being the right one and made me wonder what was going on in their heads as they chose that answer. At the end of each test, they thanked me for reading for them as I walked them back to their classes down hallways of curiousity: how did we do this year?

I have this strange relationship with all things quantifiable. I understand how we use numbers to seek understanding and predict possibilities  and I LOVE it when the numbers work in my favour or prove my point. But as I review some of the percentiles and standard scores, I have more questions than answers. The standardized tests that I use measure how much the child differs from the norm, something that was established by averaging out all the differences of many children. Then I look at the results and ask myself, what do these results tell me about how this student might be different from the average student, who doesn’t actually exist. This is when I HATE the numbers because they tell me how wonderfully unique this child is but not why. And then I wonder, is it really my business to know why? Does it really matter?

For the child who doesn’t “fit in” it does. It matters because even though they know they are different, they still want to find a place where they belong. The question is do we find a way to help them fit into the space they find themselves in, or do we open up the boundaries so they can find a place where they fit?

We’re in a system that is guided by numbers that tell us what the average child could and should be able to do. It makes us ask questions like “Why is that child falling behind?” “What do they need to keep up with their peers?”  “What did we do that worked so well?” And as we compare the results we will make a lot of assumptions about what they tell us about our students, our teachers, our school and our district all the while comparing them to a child that does not exist.

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