Ability Labelling

The Treehorn Express


Treehorn story? http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/print.asp?article=11697

The Treehorn Express Theme song: ‘Care for Kids’

Parents: Has NAPLAN testing been a serious discussion issue at your meetings?  Have you received any literature about its usefulness [or otherwise] for your child’s learning development?

Principals: Ever been to a conference on ‘The Morality of Blanket Testing?’

Politicians Are you or any of your colleagues moving to North Carolina soon?  If you allow NAPLAN testing to persist, you would feel comfortable there. Last week its General Assembly passed a Bill ruling that scientists are not allowed to predict sea level rises.

Says journo Jess Zimmerman : “By all legal calculations, the sea level will now rise by eight inches by the end of the century. Sure, models have predicted a rise of three feet or more, but if they keep that shit up, they’re going to JAIL.”

Pupils: Q.  Why did dimeducrats of the 19th century start the peculiar idea of assigning Arabic numerals or Sanskrit symbols to label you and your work?

A.  There were no emoticons available.


Ability Labelling

Ever since homo sapiens emerged as a distinct species of hominids and used mental abilities to effect, the world has progressed without the need for putting numbers on the efforts of those who have been responsible for its development.  People have always helped each other to learn new things without scaling anything or rating group effort. People needed to learn, so they did. Early elders taught the young how to grab fish, club woolly horses and use fire to scare the sabre-toothed tigers- all the essential learnings of ‘The Saber-Tooth Curriculum” – without impeding their achievements by testing and scoring their basic learnings with meaningless numbers.

The Byzantine Empire started a primary education system in 425 and numbers were never assigned to any mental activity that pupils undertook. The system was for teaching and learning exchanges. School learning started to be desecrated in 1883 when Sir Francis Galton of England developed an apparatus for testing different sensations and German psychologist Ebbinghaus applied quantitative measurement to testing memory.

Testing of intelligence by numbers then became a fad. The novelty of measuring groups and assigning numbers to intellectual ability became a favoured academic activity. It spread to schools. A useless pursuit, there were people who believed it. Then in 1919, group testing for the granting of ‘scholarships’, as measured by group tests,  became standard.

Individuality was ignored. English Grammar Schools wanted to claim only those who were bright, as measured by tests. Now children at school in all English-speaking countries are left with this monstrous mutilation of learning spirit, for no good reason. Mind you, for many people beyond the profession and on its margins; and for  those who use such numbers for enrolment and rely on public comment, there is money in it.

Ability labelling is a latter day phenomenon that has failed. No one of professional worth can find educational reasons for ritualising it,  nor for supporting it, because it’s raison d’etre devalues the profession itself.


‘Learning Without Limits’

Doubting Thomases would be well advised to read Learning Without Limits by Hart, Dixon, Drummond, McIntyre et al [McGraw-Hill, 2004].  Many will have already read it, spoken about it and discussed issues arising. It is worth re-visiting if you have. You will agree.  Although it is lengthy [30+pages – worth hard-copying] for down-loading it is splendid reading. I’m grateful to Bruce Hammonds of http://leading-learning.blogspot.co.nz who kindly supplied it.  Positively provocative, the book explains why the authors hold the conviction that, “..ability labelling damages young people’s learning, and prevents teachers from fulfilling their professional commitment to making a positive difference to young people’s lives.” It quotes from influential studies and writers, most of whom teachers are familiar through their training and personal renewal.  It’s sub-titles will certainly enliven professional discussion of environmental impacts on differential achievements amongst children; and of the current national quest for a ‘one size that fits all’. It’s a splendid sister book for “Say NO to NAPLAN”  on www.literacyeducators.com.au .

What’s wrong with ability labelling?

Fixed ability: the educator’s paradox.

Effects on Pupils.

Effects on teachers’ thinking and practice.

Consequences for school curricula.

Towards classrooms free from ability grouping.

Focusing on the practice of experienced teachers.

(Link to document will be added later, so check back)


Have you ordered your bundles of “Say NO to NAPLAN’ stickers yet?  Order in bundles of ten.  $1 each plus postage. Quick delivery.

Contact l.m.wilson@bigpond.com while they are still available.

Postage for 10 : $1.20

Postage for more than 30 : $2.40

Bank: ANZ       Branch : Carlton North

    BSB:  013-374               A/c Number : 5697-99435         

Account  Name :  WILSON,  LORRAINE

[If you should want just one or two for your car – free – be quick – limited number – contact me and I shall post asap]



Parents !

Write to your school today.


Recommended Links















Have you checked the Bridging the Ditch page recently?

We talk about blanket testing, general schooling and general waffle…please make yourself at home.

Comment if you wish. Click on Bridging the Ditch. We invite you to read our mail.


OtherTreehorns ? :   Check Recent Posts and Archives in the sidebar.

Maintained by outstanding NZ educator, Allan Alach

Phil Cullen AM,FACE, FACEL

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia 2486

07 5524 6443




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