Don’t Worry About Grade-Level Expectations

With many schools around the country resuming classes—either in person or virtually—we are hearing a lot of talk about grade-level expectations and how today’s new reality may affect them. Parents, in particular, fear that their children may be “behind” since missing part of the previous school year.

The fact is that our current school systems are founded on a series of grade-level expectations that certain learning goals should be achieved by a certain age or year in school. Yet there is no reason to suspect that the brain pays attention to those grade level or age expectations. In reality, young people of the same age show a great deal of intellectual variability.

These differences can profoundly influence classroom performance. For example, about 10 percent of students do NOT have brains sufficiently wired to read at the age at which we expect them to read. Lockstep models based simply on age or grade level are guaranteed to create a counterproductive mismatch to brain biology.

This is especially true with young boys learning how to read. As an elementary school principal for seven (7) years, I frequently suggested to hold young boys back in the early grades if they could not read well. Additionally, schools in many countries do not teach reading until boys are eight years old—when their brains are developed enough to handle the cognitive skills required for reading.

Don’t Stress Over Grade-Level

So whether you are a teacher or a parent now doing homeschooling or what some are calling crisis-schooling, realize that grade-level expectations aren’t only guidelines, not rules set in stone. What’s important is to keep learning as enjoyable and stress-free as possible in order to help the child foster a love of learning—especially when schooling during a global pandemic, as we are today.

Tip: Introduce the grade-level expectations, but be prepared to adapt if your student doesn’t seem ready for the information yet. Remember that you can’t force someone to learn. When the brain is ready for the task, learning is effortless.