School-readiness assessments are a subset of psycho-educational assessments and are usually recommended for children in the last term of their Grade R year.
What is meant by “school-ready”?
Parents are often confused by the term school-ready. They might be told that their child is not school-ready, while the Schools Act stipulates that all children must start school (Grade 1) in the year that they turn 7. So how is it that a child may be considered not ready for school while they are at the right age to start school as stipulated by the act?
Put very simply, a child is considered school ready when deemed to be able to cope with the formal demands of schooling. These demands are not only intellectual but also emotional, perceptual and conceptual. Children are deemed to be intellectually school-ready if they score a mental age of 6 years 3 months on standardised school readiness assessments.
What is tested during school-readiness assessments?
The intellectual assessment (IQ test) is considered to be a very important tool in the school readiness test battery. This assessment is done to establish what the child’s IQ is (which will give us an indication of whether the child will be better suited to a mainstream, remedial or special educational environment) and also to measure the child’s intellectual or mental age.
The child’s visual and auditory perceptual skills are tested to determine whether they can accurately perceive the visual and auditory stimuli that reach their brains through their eyes and ears. Keep in mind that adequate auditory and visual perception includes much more than just functional hearing and sight. It determines amongst others, whether children are able to synthesise sounds into words which will be important later when they read to spell and write, whether they can remember the visual cues presented to them, etc.
A child’s concept development is tested. Here we check to see that the child has mastered such concepts as colours, shapes (important later when learning to identify letters), rote counting, object counting (do they realise that each object is represented by only one number), time (do they know when you will fetch them and on which days they need to go to school), etc.
Fine motor and gross motor skills are checked. Will your child be able to manipulate a pencil, a pair of scissors, beads on a string and so forth in order to complete tasks in the classroom? The importance of gross motor skills (ability to use and control the large muscles of the body) is often underestimated. Not only does it determine whether your child will be able to participate happily in games on the playground, but will also determine whether he is able to sit still at a desk and keep his body up against gravity (and so concentrate) during lessons.
Finally, an emotional screening is done. This will help determine whether a child has any underlying emotional difficulties that may prevent him from achieving to his full potential or from participating in class (these may include a low self-esteem, anxiety, etc) as well as whether a child is emotionally mature enough to cope in a grade 1 classroom. Children are allowed less freedom of movement and are given less individual attention than they are in pre-school. A child might be intellectually school-ready, but might not show enough responsibility in the completion of unaided tasks, etc to be considered school-ready.
Why is it important to be school-ready
Besides the obvious implication that a child who is not school ready will simply not cope in class and will more than likely fail the academic year, one has to keep the significance of the first school year in mind. A child who is not ready for grade 1 will most likely feel completely overwhelmed in class, and may develop a fear or dislike of school all together. The child might also notice that all his classmates are able to cope with tasks that he finds difficult and may begin to think that there is something wrong with him. This may lead to a low self-esteem or may lead children to form “mental blocks” against certain types of schoolwork such as a belief that they “simply cannot do math”, where this might not be the case at all.
It is thus crucial to establish that a child is indeed “school ready” before enrolling them for Grade one.