Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The beatings will continue until the scores improve

I visited with an old friend for a while today. We talked about the bubble kid issue. If you read my last entry, you will remember that "bubble kids" are the ones who almost pass the TAKS. He described to me how his district is approaching improvement on benchmark tests that are leading up to the TAKS.

The benchmarks are supposed to determine how well a child is doing on a particular objective that has been separated out from the rest of the taught curriculum. The benchmarks in his district are rather short - often being under 10 questions. If the child does not pass this small quiz, he will be assigned to a required afternoon tutorial. The child is removed from his afterschool elective activity. That activity is often sports. This is what passes for brilliant thinking on the part of thousands of school administrators and curriculum leaders.

So in an attempt to motivate and retrain the child he gets to miss what may be his favorite activity to attend a tutorial where he will be instructed in an ever smaller chunk of the objective. What this amounts to will in most cases be worksheets or a series of discreet, short activities intended to impact knowledge of the objective. There are several assumptions that underlie this technique that I challenge.

1. Children create understanding from intense study of small chunks of information that make up a greater whole. There is a a large body of evidence that trying to offer tutorials that attempt to prescribe for small discreet objectives may be the worst way to help underachieving kids.
2. Removing kids from a favored activity to "remediate some problem" will cause them to be motivated to do better on a standardized test. My personal experience is that this causes a lot of resentment. I can't offer hard data to back up this opinion. But, I believe this causes as many problems as it solves.
3. More of the same will help kids learn. I know this is not the intended outcome. I don't think any school leader intends remedial instruction to be "more of the same". But, I believe this is what most remedial instruction in schools amounts to for most kids. There are rare teachers who make reteaching completely different and novel. Unfortunately, they are far and few between.
4. More time, by itself, will result in improvement. This is debateable. There is evidence that more time spent on a target skill may be the least effective method.

In my experience, most kids regard the intense remediation that occurs after failure on a standardized test as punishment. Many of the kids resent being taken out of their afternoon activities. Unfortunately, a number of schools have threatened the lower achieving kids with removal from their elective until they improve on the standardized test. This option may the the worst of all the attempts to help low achieving kids.

The kids who are not achieving are often kids who do not find school rewarding in the first place. They are not "school boys" or "school girls" as low achieving kids refer to successful kids in some environments.

What is needed here is to increase the richness and the complexity of instruction so that the kids can make the needed connections. Instruction needs to approach as many ways to learn as possible. I would argue that the lower achieving kids need a richer environment, more enjoyable projects that induce kids to process information in the deepest possible way, and it must be fun.

Yep, fun. Schools being the dreadful places many of them are, simply are not fun places to be. We are asking kids to learn in ways that are alien to any natural way of learning. We are asking to enjoy the beatings. And, we often tell them that the beatings continue until they improve.

John McGeough


Blogger Polski3 said...

Mit dem TESTING, "ARBEIT MACH FREI" Seems the Edu-Nazis are out in full force in your school district. At the Junior High School where I teach. our administration has assigned students failing classes to attend 'tutoring' classes after regular school hours. Some of these students did attend and may have gained some benefit from the additional instruction. Most, however, quickly learned that two things would happen if they did not attend; that there was absolutely no consequence for their failure to attend this tutoring and that they would be promoted on to the next grade level regardless of their grades (which technically is a violation of California's no social promotion law).
Wonder why our school is now in its second year of not making AYP ?

10:17 AM  

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