Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Every Child is Average

The current No Child Left Behind legislation is based on the idea that every student is capable of being proficient, with performance that falls “in the middle,” between basic and advanced achievement. Regardless of educational background, available family and community support networks, and the in- and out-of-school environment, every child can reach this average level of performance.

The problem is that striving for an average level of proficiency actually dilutes student achievement. As the Education Week article “NCLB Seen as Curbing Low, High Achievers’ Gains” reports, the focus on teaching to the average level of student proficiency leaves students who achieve at higher and lower levels behind. Teachers work to to ensure students reach the mandated adequate yearly progress scores, but in the end, students who are above or below average lose. High achievers aren’t challenged to move beyond average performance, and struggling students are not given the support they need to reach proficiency.

In the NCLB classroom, curriculum is structured to focus on helping the average student do well on a single win-or-lose test. The result is that the literacy skills that all students bring to the classroom can go unacknowledged and unsupported. The only literacy skills that matter are those that apply to the test. Teachers of the youngest students actually take class time to instruct students on how to fill in bubbles on test forms. Learning to color in the lines becomes curriculum instead of true literacy instruction.

We must demand change. No Child Left Behind needs to live up to its name. We need a program that supports the wide range of literacy skills students need in the 21st century and the vast differences among students in the classroom.

To move beyond a system that encourages teaching aimed at the average student and average proficiency, we need to demand the following characteristics become the goal in ensuring every child succeeds:

  • Student achievement should be measured by locally created performance assessments, not one-size-fits-all tests that ignore students who don’t fit in.

  • Curriculum and performance should focus on teaching the full range of literacy skills, not just the literacy of test-taking.

  • School experiences should prepare students with the deep knowledge necessary for success in a global society, not success in filling in the right bubbles on test forms.

  • Assessment should provide timely, concrete feedback to teachers, parents, and students, not numbers with no context and no process for learning from past work.

  • The growth and achievement among English Language Learners should be measured with multiple sources of evidence that document the full range of students’ literacy abilities. English Language Learners should not be assessed with premature tests of English skills that result in misjudged or underrated results.

  • Curriculum and testing should be based on scientifically-valid research that fits the best methods to specific questions. Research is not one-size-fits-all either.

  • Instructional decisions should be based on an archive of powerful research gathered from direct observation of student learning in a range of authentic school settings, not on research that inadequately represents how students learn to read and write.
In the current test-driven environment, students are simply statistics moving through the system. Every child is treated as capable of average proficiency. Individual abilities and knowledge are lost in this constructed vision of students. Children who need more challenging curriculum and children who need more scaffolding and support are left behind. Every child is average in the NCLB system—an average of all the students in the classroom and an average achiever in the world of standardized testing.

In truth, no child is average. Every child is different, and we must demand legislation that recognizes that fact. You can help by taking a few minutes to write your members of Congress and letting them know how they can make the NCLB law work for students, teachers, and schools. Take action now and help ensure that no child is treated like an average student.


H. Lynch said...

Every Spring I struggle with the outrage I feel at the powers that be deciding who in my class is "adequate" or "above" or "below." I've watched students improve their reading by multiple grade levels in a matter of months, yet get the label of failure on the almighty TEST. I've wanted to apologize to more capable students in my classroom, because of the difficulty in actually challenging them without access to materials, opportunities, or even permission. “Hold hands and stay together” is great for walking through a crowded mall, but it inevitably holds back brilliance and frustrates struggles in the classroom. Ultimately, it leaves everyone more “average” than ever.

Teri Lesesne said...

And there is even more sinister circumstances hidden within the push for AYP on NCLB. It is the idea that everyone can be above average if only teachers are dooing their jobs ocrrectly. As a parent, I am dismayed at the lack of any curriculum other than that which will appear on the test. As a teacher, I am concerned that we are not standing up against this tide and shouting from whatever soap box we can find that this testing frenzy has done real damage.

I listened to the Democratic debate this week and was heartened to hear more of the candidates tak about chucking NCLB totally. However, there was still that undercurrent of "accountability" that demeans my chosen profession as it implies we cannot possibly do a good job without some Big Brother intrusive test to make certain kids are learning.

I appreciate the fact that we have this forum for discussion, but I wish we also had a more prominent place at the federal table where the discussions that change our fate happen.

Teri Lesesne

Phip said...

Your first one point about achievement being measured locally suggests to me that the more effective way to influence our classrooms is by supporting these types of proposals on local levels instead of putting this in the hands of folks clearly so far removed from student learning.

Anonymous said...

Accountability is not bad but we need to be sure that is using an objective measure and the tests are criterian referenced with an arbitrary cut of for what proficient is. I n Ohio the cut score is not set until the see the raw data and then make sure that a similar percent of students who were proficient the year before do not suddenly appear to have gotten dumb.

Prof. Barbara S. Reall said...

Prof. Barbara S. Reall
Community College of Rhode Island

To insure definitively that there is "No child left behind", we must always remind ourselves that we as teachers are very special people who use our creativity and our loving minds to insure successful development of our talents which will encourage students to think, dream, learn, and do. We must see every student as a unique person and encourage their individual talents and strengths. Recollection of the important words of Karl Menninger is essential due to the fact that he said, "What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." More importantly, Donna Bulger states that "To teach is to be tender, loving, strong, and giving; but to teach WELL is to believe in what and whom you teach."