How we define “high achieving schools” is changing.
One of the first things many of us do when we are making a decision about where to live is to investigate the quality of the school district. When I ask friends how they pursue such an investigation, they tell me that they look at student achievement scores and usually not much more. But what does that really tell us? Shouldn’t we look at trends in student achievement? Isn’t it more important to know if student achievement is increasing for all students? Furthermore, measuring student achievement using typical standardized tests doesn’t tell us much about the students’ ability to be successful in the complex and quickly changing world of the 21st Century.
I’ve met more than a few people who tell me that they moved into a specific school district because standardized test scores are high and that upon visits to classrooms, they saw instruction and materials that looked similar to their experience in high school. But as Daniel Pink so eloquently states in A Whole New Mind, “we need to prepare students for their future, not our past”. Perhaps the real questions we should ask when we consider schools are: what are you doing to ensure that you are improving your practices and outcomes for all students and how do you ensure that the education offered is relevant and meaningful for today’s students?
It is a moral imperative to ensure that all students are ready for life and employment in the 21st century.
In the information age and global economy, education is the prerequisite to careers in most growth industries; therefore, all students should be prepared and have a choice about what kind of post secondary education they will pursue. Some will choose to earn college degrees and others will enter apprenticeship and job training programs. Students must be ready for either path by mastering both content knowledge and 21st century skills. It seems that “21st century skills” has almost become another educational catch phrase. Rather than using this phrase, it is more effective if we name the skills we desire for our students. For example, many schools include critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and effective use of technology that supports rather than detracts from learning on their list of 21st century skills. Some schools also include items such as global citizenship and learning to discern good information from bad. It is a common misinterpretation to believe that these skills replace traditional high school content. Learning the material taught in courses such as mathematics, English, social studies and science remains as important as ever, but they are no longer enough.
Methods of instruction need to vary to meet the needs of students.
Perhaps the way we teach this content can also look different than it has in the past. There is more high quality educational research available now than ever. As educators, we must be familiar with the research and mindful about pursuing approaches likely to create conditions that will increase student achievement. Teachers need to be skilled in many different instructional techniques and then be given the autonomy to choose the method that will best meet the needs of their students.
Even high achieving schools have achievement gaps.
It is also a moral imperative to reduce and eventually eliminate the persistent achievement gaps that exist even in high achieving schools. It is unacceptable that we can often predict a student’s performance in school based on the color of their skin or the size of their parents’ or guardians’ paycheck. We should also be mindful that minority and low-income students are sometimes significantly over represented in special education programs. There is no evidence to suggest that minority or low- income students are more likely to be disabled than their white or middle class peers.
Both/ and, not either/or
Another common misunderstanding is that we can EITHER have schools that work well for high achieving students, OR we can have schools that work well for low achieving students. In fact, we can do both. We can ensure that students who already come to us proficient are learning at even higher levels by creating opportunities for them to apply their knowledge to unique situations. We can do this at the same time that we provide additional support and assistance to students who need more. In reality, every student needs a little extra help sometimes. Our schools can provide both a little bit of support and a lot of support depending on the circumstance. Great schools have systems in place to ensure that BOTH high AND low achieving students are growing and learning. Get everything Laurie Kimbrel straight from the latest Laurie Kimbrel news to a full collection of photos, facts, and her complete biography.
Most school districts work diligently to improve their practices and outcomes. Continuous improvement is simply necessary in our rapidly changing world. If we stand still and accept the status quo, we will be passed by. Our goal should be to work together so that every single student learns and grows every day.