The confusion of averages

22nd December 1995 at 00:00
The notion of "reading age" is commonly misconstrued in the press. "Tiptoe through the minefield" (TES, December 8) perpetuates the confusion.

The article questioned how the effectiveness of special education needs help can be judged. An example was given of a child who at aged eight had a reading age of seven and "only" made six months advance in reading age during the next 12 months.

A reading age describes the average level of reading ability of children of that particular age. There will be as many children with reading ages below their chronological age as above.

Those who do not achieve a reading age to match or exceed their own age, unfortunately, are often described as "being behind" when they might in fact be making steady and appropriate progress.

The hypothetical child in the example has low average reading attainment at eight and still has low average reading attainment at nine. The child has in fact made the progress which would be statistically predicted. Approximately 15 per cent of this child's peers would be expected to have lower reading levels at both ages. In the absence of other information, this child does not have special educational needs.

Negotiating "the minefield" is not made any easier by misinformation which creates needless concern.

M M CROMPTON Education psychologist 3a The Holdings RingmerEast Sussex

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