05 January 2012

5 of 31: Cognition versus achievement

Parents often confuse these two related terms.  Cognition refers to awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment whereas achievement has to do with excellence in a particular (academic) area.

Often, the parents of an early reader will insist that their child should/would be GATE identified.  But while a skill such as early reading proficiency definitely indicates high achievement, it only possibly indicates superior cognition.  An average child can be forced to achieve excellence in a specific academic area earlier than her same-aged peers (though studies indicate that these early gains are leveled by around third grade), but her ability to process novel stimuli and incorporate it quickly and seamlessly into existing knowledge cannot be significantly affected.  That is to say, we can teach a student more facts, but can't really change how her brain conceptualizes and synthesizes those facts.

Like in many other schools, A1's first grade class implements the Response To Intervention protocol such that high achievers are placed with their high achieving peers in order to enrich their education experience and low achievers are placed with their low achieving peers in order to focus on reaching normative goals.  But the problem is that even similarly achieving students are highly disparate in their functioning.  I have found that while the reading levels in A1's group fall on a narrow band, the high achievers have difficulty sussing out main ideas and disregarding the minor or supporting components.  I've also discovered that, for the GATE children, i.e., those of superior cognition, reading passages serves as an implicit prompt for discussion of thoughts and ideas from related areas of their general fund of knowledge.

To avoid sounding too negative, I want to clarify that I'm also saying that just because your preschooler may not be reading Tolstoy or solving integral equations, she may still be gifted.  Look for sharp wit and quick humor and celebrate her vivid imagination and intense curiosity because these are far more likely to be indicators of giftedness than an ability to regurgitate facts in an isolated, unreasoned fashion.

Thanks for bearing with me through my unsolicited public service announcement.  Here is a random, totally unrelated photograph by A1 (he's working to earn his belt loop and pin in Photography in Scouts) in Joshua Tree National Park because, you know, a photo-free post just looks naked to me.


Ann said...

Interesting! My daughter is in K and gets reading instruction because of her advanced reading skills. I think it is our job as parents to push the school. If we feel like our child needs more challenges (whether or not they have certain skills) we need to speak up don't you think? Even though I live in what is considered a "not so good" school district I am impressed with all the academical opportunities available! I am dyslexic so I know what it is like to have the cognition but not the skill!

Lam said...

I recall a longitudinal study that followed grade school students who were admitted to their local magnet school via lottery, students who failed to gain admission but entered the lottery, and students who never entered the lottery. I believe outcome measures were HS graduation, college attendance, annual income, etc. As it turned out those inner city students who remained in their "not so good" school district but entered the lottery were as successful in school and in life as those who actually went to the "good" school, thus indicating that the program was of less significance than family involvement and having parents who showed an interest in the student's education; i.e., just *wanting* to go to the magnet school meant a greater likelihood for success. So YES, I completely agree with you! It is our job to speak up, and it is as important to talk to the teachers and administrators as it is to show our children that we are talking to their teachers and administrators.