Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rewarding smart students

Here in America, we’re constantly shortchanging our smartest students. Even before the Common Core took hold, our schools have been watering down gifted programs or eliminating them entirely. One particularly insidious strategy is to do what Montgomery County has done with math acceleration: open up accelerated classes to a lot more students while keeping standards high. Then, when failure rates in these classes spike, conclude that the problem is acceleration itself rather than who’s being accelerated, brand the phenomenon as “over-acceleration,” and argue that the classes in question should be decelerated—if not eliminated entirely.

Under the Common Core, with its one-size-fits-all-approach and its studious avoidance of words like acceleration, things are even worse. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article in EdWeek:

Gina Tampio said her son, who is in 2nd grade and an advanced learner, has lost interest in school since the common-core standards rolled out at his elementary school last year. (The school he attends no longer classifies students as gifted.)  
"My main concern is that the the common core has made the curriculum so rigid and rote and, frankly, just boring," she said. "When my son has to identify the main theme in a story, the story is so boring and nonsensical that he has learned not to care."  
Her son's school, Daniel Warren Elementary in Mamaroneck, N.Y., has moved to a prepackaged common-core curriculum that Ms. Tampio said is highly prescriptive and requires everyone to learn at the same pace.  
In a statement emailed to Education Week, school district officials deny that claim.
"The Rye Neck School District is proud of its challenging curriculum and its attention to the needs of all learners," it said. "We are a high-performing district, one that will naturally adapt to the common core while continuing to exceed that baseline with individualized attention to every one of our students."  
But Ms. Tampio said that her son has not experienced an individualized curriculum. When her son's teacher tried to differentiate the curriculum for him, Ms. Tampio said he was simply given extra work.  
"In some ways that backfired because it was almost a punishment for him," she said.
A smart enough teacher, surely, would figure out a way to give this child what he needs while still kowtowing to the Common Core. But such teachers are increasingly scarce.

These are some of the things I think about when I reflect on myself as a teacher—and, specifically, on how I evaluate my students. I’ve noticed recently that my top grades almost always end up going to the smartest students in the class—instead of, say, those who exert the most effort or “go beyond the standard” or have the most hands-on experience with autism.

To do well in my class, students must read a number of moderately difficult articles on the psychology of language acquisition and autism and write responses to these articles that include clear, accurate, and comprehensive summaries. In addition they write a research paper that I also grade primarily on clarity, accuracy and comprehensiveness. More fundamentally, they need to read and understand the directions to these assignments such that, for example, that they end up answering the question at hand and not some other question instead.

Success with these tasks is much less a function of hands-on experience with, or passionate interest in, autism than it is of general skills in reading comprehension and verbal expression. These skills, in turn, are more a function of verbal IQ than of anything else (though things like attentiveness and rereading are also important). And in neurotypical people like my students, verbal IQ, in turn, is highly correlated with nonverbal IQ—i.e., with IQ in general.

But whenever I feel weird about my grades looking like IQ scores, I think about how desperately we need to promote smart people and get more smart teachers into classrooms.


lgm said...

Common Core Appendix A does have an accelerated path, but not for K-6. K-6 is encouraged to be one size fits all included class members.

My child's 'smart teacher' -- and she was very smart, had taught gifted and talented before that was cancelled -- told me that a 'smart teacher' in the era of 'no child gets ahead' knows that the walls have ears and if she wants to retire on her pension she had better do as the boss says. And the boss says: no enrichment, no acceleration, no grouping by instructional need. There are grade level meetings to ensure that each classroom is on the same page each day, and that page is appropriate for all included children.

I take it as a signal that children of educated parents are not wanted.

lgm said...

Well, wait, they are wanted if they have an LD or some other need that generates cash for the district. Your garden variety, typically developing or gifted, needs more than whole class instruction child need not attend.