The Difference Between Benchmarks and Milestones

The terms benchmark and milestone are often used interchangeably, depending on who is speaking. While they look the same on the surface, there are some technical differences between benchmarks and milestones. Knowing the difference makes communication with schools and medical professionals easier.

Show Me the Benchmark

Benchmarks are statements that reflect what your child should know or what she should be able to do at a certain age. Benchmarks are often used in the educational setting to clarify what is expected of your child at each grade level. Because benchmarks outline the behavior or knowledge your child should be able to demonstrate, they are easy to measure and provide the educational staff with specific guidelines for assessment. Benchmarks typically leave little room for variations in normal child development.

Meet Those Milestones

Milestones, on the other hand, reflect skills that most children within a particular age group have mastered, reports the University of Michigan Health System 1. Developmental psychologists, developmental specialists and pediatricians refer to milestones to assess whether your child is developing normally 2. Although there are ages associated with each milestone, these vary greatly. Normal development occurs along a continuum and does not occur at specific ages.

Say That Again

Benchmarks of a 5-year-old child who is entering kindergarten include being able to sort and classify objects according to several characteristics, such as size, color and shape; make simple patterns; and describe why the objects are sorted in the given way. These benchmarks tells parents and teachers exactly what the child is expected to do.

Milestones for the same age include counting up to 10 items, recognizing and naming four colors, developing an understanding of the concept of time and understanding what common household objects are used for, says 2. These milestones describes the skills most children have mastered by age 5 but allow room for variations in development.

Who Upset the Apple Cart?

Benchmarks vary among school systems. While efforts are made to match the expectations to the developmental age of the child, this is not always the case. A child who is within the normal range for meeting developmental milestones may fall short of meeting the benchmarks designed by the school 1. As a parent, keeping an eye how your child matches up to both milestones and benchmarks can be challenging, but familiarizing yourself with both makes your job as a parent a little bit easier.

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