Our public schools are being driven by bureaucratic statistical accountability that is devastating many perfectly bright students. They are the left behind casualties of The Race to the Top to improve the school's testing results. The student's individual progress is not even on the school district's radar screen.
Parents have witnessed first hand "teaching to the test" in the comprehensive testing featured in No Child Left Behind. High academic standards were developed by educational bureaucrats to push school districts to make changes that would improve their rankings on these tests. This approach is the same top-down national one that has done nothing to strengthen the quality of U.S. education. This process of teaching to specific topics is being duplicated implementing the Common Core standards.
The identified problem students who failed sections of a test are often not allowed to go to the next grade. Often these youngsters confidence is crushed after being lectured that this is a life and death exam. The overwhelming majority receives some form of remediation that is supposed to overcome their "inability to pass the test." These students are self-labeled as failures. The teachers lower their expectation for these students' ability to learn. They often treat them as having less potential than others. Most students rarely have the ability to bounce back from the trauma of not advancing with their classmates.
The significant problem with one-size-fits-all instruction is that it does not make allowances for differences in student's academic maturity. The difficult subject matter for the child is not viewed as a temporary obstacle to overcome but is seen as a permanent liability that defines the student's future in school.
It is rare for a student in beginning elementary school to be excellent in all subjects. Most students do well in language arts or in mathematics but usually not in both. Student's interest in these academic subjects varies depending on their brain's ability to absorb the fundamental information. This learning process develops deeper pathways in the brain to increase the retrieval of it. The timetable for enhancing these pathways is different for each student and depends on the opportunity to repeat the process until successful. Some students need more time to internalize skills, procedures and information than others.
When a student is made to believe he is defective in a particular subject area, he normally shuts down, eliminating the opportunity to practice and improve. The student believes he is permanently disabled in this area. The student develops a built-in excuse for not trying to improve. The motivation of any person is negatively affected. He feels it is purposeless to try because the authorities have certified him as being an incompetent student. This reality should be troubling to educators.
No educational expert, psychologist or teacher can predict when or if a student's mental operation will finally click in so he gains the understanding of a difficult skill. Most teachers can describe stories of mini miracles where a poor student in a subject finally puts it all together. The academic progress of the student who has learned to compensate soars until his previous liability becomes an asset.
Our government schools need to stop making premature verdicts about a student's capabilities. This false prognosis of a student is a rush to judgment that often leads to deflated, defeated students.
Each student should receive a carefully considered prognosis regardless of how it affects the comprehensive examination profile. There should not be an overreach in analyzing the test. People, especially youngsters, for a variety of physical and emotional reasons can be inattentive and not show their real abilities.
The lives of students should take precedence over marketing the effectiveness of our school districts or national rankings. Our country should treat each student as a "work in progress" with unlimited potential rather than taking a questionable snapshot and then tossing the child into the rejection bin.
In the past people have made incredible contributions to our nation who have not done well in school. Presently we have too many young people who are not being given an opportunity to bloom. The improvement of all children especially late blooming ones often occurs in higher grades or even college or job training to demonstrate their unique gifts.
Schools are too quick to pull the trigger leaving the student the casualty of the flawed system. Instead, society should take into account the uniqueness of students' developmental curve before abandoning them to be less than they could be, snuffing out the potential of too many future productive citizens.
Donald Maglio is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program in Spring Hill. Visit Maglio at www.drmaglio.blogspot.com.