Learning disabilities and testing to detect them has come
under scrutiny lately because it seems to have gotten out of
hand. What started as a good idea became mired in bureaucratic
regulations and laws to the point where the test and the
associate paperwork became more important than the student and
his needs. There is a parallel in medicine. The doctor no
longer looks at the individual patient and attempts to understand
him. Instead he places his faith and diagnosis in numerous
impersonal tests. His tests, he feels, are much more valid than
what the patient says and how he feels. The student with a
learning disability or a patient with an affliction is no longer
unique requiring a unique approach. Rather he is a statistical
entity requiring a computer printout solution of his problem.
The result of this kind of thinking is vividly demonstrated
by the experience of New York’s prestigious Dalton School. This
school received a large endowment for early identification of
learning disabled children. What they looked for they found. In
one three-year period, 36% of 5-year-olds with a mean IQ of 132
were labeled as needing remedial help. Remediation means to
correct something that is wrongly learned. Since they had not
started to learn the curriculum, how could they be wrong?
The parallel in medicine is that if the doctor gives enough
tests, he will eventually find something irregular. In fact, if
every person in the country, whether sick or not, were given
enough tests, there would be something irregular found for
everyone. The “healthy average” is a statistical abstraction
which never exists in the real population. Most people
understand their bodies well enough to know when something is
seriously wrong. Nobody has a perfect body but that is okay.
That is why people choose different professions. We are not all
going to be tennis champs or astronauts.
The same can be said for children’s learning. None of us
came out of the womb perfect but we have learned to compensate.
We do it so well that we assume that is the way everyone learns.
Our learning styles, temperaments, and ways of compensating for
our limitations all affect how we learn. No way is necessarily
better than another–they are just different and unique. What
makes us unique also makes us think differently and come up with
unique solutions to problems. If we were all tested so that we
could be given the same uniform curriculum, we would be like
robots without an original thought among us. Such a system could
not produce original thinkers like Feynman and Einstein.
The teacher’s job is to provide the program best suited to
each child. A good teacher can tell you more about a child’s
learning style than any test. When a good teacher finds a child
not learning, she finds another way to teach that child so that
he does learn. She has a repertoire of skills and needs no
specialist to tell her that the child is not learning. She
already knows that. The learning disability specialist functions
best when she is a resource for the teacher and provides her with
information to help her and her students succeed. The solution,
especially for very young children, might merely be for the
teacher to slow the program down and to wait for the child’s
normal development to catch up.
If your kindergarten child is being assessed by a learning
specialist with screening tests, find out what is the purpose of
the tests and what the school is going to do with the results.
Some children do not take tests well. Some children are very
cautious and do not relate well to the stranger giving the test.
As a result, many of these tests results are not valid. You are
your child’s advocate. Protect him so that he keeps his unique
view of the world and eventually can contribute in his own unique
way. Do not lose confidence in him as a learner.