This week Big Bear brought home his school report and SATS results and it has got me thinking about achievements: how do we measure them and what really matters anyway?
Big Bear has been well-stimulated since birth and has been fortunate in having a good start in life, unlike his brother, Little Bear, who has not. Big Bear has also been blessed with natural academic ability and despite being the youngest child in his class, has exceeded expectations in his year 2 SATS. I am extremely proud of him but it’s not because of the marks that he got.
It has taken a while for school to notice that Big Bear has these abilities. Naturally boisterous and with a fairly short attention span, his skills have been masked by his excitable behaviour. He has worked really hard this year to focus and to put all his efforts into tasks. Consequently he has found himself in the harder groups in class. His chronologically older peers seem to have been able to cope better with the expectations and pressures of being in these groups than he has. Although able to keep up with the work, I think Big Bear’s age shows in his immature resilience and sensitivity (though some of that is part of his personality). He takes criticism (even if intended in a constructive way) very personally and is easily wounded by it. In addition he is a reluctant, left-handed writer who constantly needs to improve his handwriting. Due to the issues with feeling criticism so keenly, constant comments about not being able to read his writing have not been received well.
Yet, despite all this, Big Bear has recently found within himself the desire to do his best and has tried really hard. He has finally achieved his potential and that is what I am proud of.
When I read his report however, the SATS results were nice (because they represented all of the above) but they were not the bit that made me well-up with pride. That was the bit which said he is a very kind and caring member of the class and is always the first to comfort others when they are upset. Now that IS an achievement: being a truly lovely human being. That is something which cannot be measured by standardised tests but which is so important in leading a happy and fulfilled life.
I would take loveliness over SATS results every time.
However, it would be wrong of me to suggest that academic achievements don’t matter because realistically they do. After all, exams/ grades/ certificates are the currency we trade in to get gainful employment as adults. Without them, options are limited. It is probably this thought that surfaces in my subconscious whenever I get an update on Big Bear’s educational progress and a few minutes later am hit by a semi-panic: how on earth will Little Bear cope at this juncture in 3 years’ time?
It is true, 3 years is a long time away and no doubt Little Bear will have made tons more progress by then, but as he still cannot count reliably to 3, will he really be able to do multiplication and division by then? Will it be realistic to expect him to identify a noun phrase or an adverb when he finds language processing and formulation so difficult at the moment?
Who knows? But I’m pretty sure that SATS are not going to be the right way to measure Little Bear’s achievements.
As far as I’m concerned, Little Bear is achieving every day. It is an achievement for him whenever he complies with an adult request, thereby ignoring his own agenda. It is an achievement if he can do it without growling or commenting or hitting. It is an achievement every time he learns a new word, makes a longer sentence or expresses a new concept. And, like his bigger brother, Little Bear tries really hard.
Living with Speech and Language Difficulties is really tiring because every interaction is fraught with challenge. What does that person mean? Can I make sense of it? How do I express my complex thoughts on the matter when I don’t have half of the words I need?
Faced with these challenges day in day out it would be easy to give up. But Little Bear doesn’t. In fact, he is now very chatty and will persevere over and over sometimes if I can’t quite work out what he means. Or he will think of another way to make me understand – a gesture or by getting an object.
Overcoming a communication difficulty is quite an achievement, but not the kind SATS can measure.
Also, like his bigger brother, Little Bear has a very kind side to him and can be very considerate and thoughtful.
A big part of the reason I was happy with Big Bear’s report was because he had tried hard to reach his potential. I don’t really know what Little Bear’s potential is, his development having become delayed through neglect, not by any innate cognitive difficulties. I do know that whatever he achieves academically will be despite this. He is showing some real early promise for practical tasks such as mending and figuring out how things work. He seems to instinctively know what to do with tools in a way that other children would not. He is also a good budding sportsman.
These achievements will not be measured by SATS.
I’m grateful that there are other options these days for young people – apprenticeships etc. where you CAN achieve using practical skills. However, from Big Bear’s experiences so far in the primary system, the curriculum at that stage seems focussed on Literacy and Numeracy and I’m not sure how many opportunities there are to achieve in different ways.
Whatever Little Bear’s potential, I hope he is happy at school and able to thrive there. I will be extremely proud of every achievement, no matter how big or small, as I am with Big Bear.
If I measure achievement by the parameters that I value – hard work, trying your best, being kind and considerate towards others – then both bears are already high-achievers in my book.