Response to blog post by Jan Resseger
All of the research tells us pretty much the same thing but the article and the summaries of the research make for great reading and challenge us to challenge our assumptions. My point is that all of these studies and commentaries miss the point.
Of course kids in affluent schools score better than schools with more challenging populations of students.
Compare it to a foot race in which some runners get to step up to the starting line while others must start from various distances behind. No one should be at all surprised that a higher percentage of the runners who begin from the starting line get to the finish line faster than the runners who started from behind. These outcomes tell us nothing about how fast these different populations of students can run or learn, how hard they work, or how hard their coaches and teachers work. What it does tell us is the race was neither structured nor organized to ensure equal opportunity.
What it tells us about learning in our classrooms is that the way teachers are asked to teach and students learn should be adapted to the unique needs of students. The existing education process pushes teachers and their students down a path laid out by academic standards, along an arbitrary timeline, in perfect cadence, without respect to outcomes.
While the entire testing process is misguided, the results it produces, also, are utilized for the wrong purposes. Besides, the results tell us what we know, already.
If we want to do meaningful research we should study the correlation between the grades next to a student’s name in their teacher’s gradebook and how well those students perform on standardized tests.
My hypothesis would be that students who earn A’s and B’s in the classroom will perform well on standardized tests as such exams, misguided though they may be, are an opportunity for students to apply, outside the classroom, the knowledge and skills gained in school. Students who earn C’s, D’s and F’s, meaning they did not learn well in class, will be similarly unsuccessful on such exams. The same is true for college entrance exams, the ASVAB, and for any instrument used to assess the eligibility and/or qualifications of candidates, applicants, or prospective employees.
Just as the brain cannot learn what it has had no opportunity to learn, students will be unable to utilize knowledge and skills they had no opportunity to learn or, more accurately, had an insufficient time to learn.
What the grades in a teacher’s gradebook and results of standardized testing should be used for is to signal us that kids are not learning successfully, prompting us to rethink how we teach them.
Kids who are poor, who are born into families that place little value in education, who are raised in an environment where discrimination is prevalent, who have had limited enrichment opportunities during early childhood, who attend schools where many students struggle, and have a pattern of behavioral issues present special challenges. None of these circumstances means these kids cannot learn. Rather, what they tell us is these students are not learning and they will need more help from teachers and a learning environment that can be adapted to their unique requirements.
Teachers of these children must be able to devote considerably more effort to developing nurturing and supportive relationships, and this takes time. Teachers must be able to assess what these kids know so they can judge where best to commence a student’s academic journey because most of them are starting from behind. They must develop a strategy to address the unique needs and requirements of each of their students. Teachers must provide instruction, opportunities to practice, they must help students learn from their mistakes and, sometimes, teachers must go back and do it over again. All these things take time and necessitate giving teachers discretion to deviate if not ignore plotted time frames.
Just because students do not learn the first time does not mean they are incapable of learning, and they must not be pushed ahead before ready. In the existing education process the routine is to accept less than the best students can do by recording C’s, D’s, and F’s in their gradebooks and then push children ahead without the prerequisite knowledge success on future lessons demands. All this methodology does is allow students who are already behind, lag even further. It is only a matter of time until these kids give up and quit trying.
These same patterns can be found in high performing schools because, even in these schools, gradebooks will reveal C’s, D’s, and F’s. Although they are not as numerous in high performing schools, there are students unable to demonstrate proficiency no matter how many opportunities they are given to do so. One would think fewer students would mean teachers would have more time, but it is still insufficient.
The harsh reality in the existing education process, whether utilized in public, charter, or faith-based schools, is that exceptional circumstance are neither accommodated nor tolerated, and each leaves casualties along academic pathways. The harshest reality of all is that the outcomes we get in schools throughout the U.S. are the outcomes the education process is structured to produce no matter how hard teachers work or how dedicated and qualified they may be.
None of this will change until we abandon an obsolete education process and implement an education model designed to give teachers discretion to adapt to the needs of students.
The irony is that the zeal of charter school leaders and advocates, who are working hard to solicit commitments for hundreds of millions of dollars for vouchers and tuition subsidies, has blinded them to reality. These advocates have no idea they are working hard to arrive at the same destination, tomorrow, where public schools find themselves now. Why? Because they all rely on the existing education process.
Today, the leaders and advocates of community public schools are presented with a wonderful opportunity. Please take a step back and look around you. If you do this objectively, what you will come to realize is that you and your colleagues have been so focused on test scores and everything that is wrong with standardized testing that you have lost sight of the reality that tens of millions of American school children are not learning. Learning is the only thing that really counts but it is not what the existing education process is designed to ensure.
This is a perfect time for the educators and advocates for community public schools to spring into action to transform education in America.
Author of The Hawkins Model©