Saturday, October 18, 2014

Five ways that setting the bar too high can be a bad thing

A district I work with has been focusing on literacy especially reading in the last few years. In multiple ways the district keeps redefining what are can be accepted as grade level achievement. In essence they keep raising the bar. As I was reviewing some of the data fro the district it was clear that teachers across the district are struggling to help their students reach the new criteria bu are slowly making significant strides in their efforts. This is the dream of all those interested in education - successfully raising outcomes by increasing the expectations. It's hard to argue against success but I am going to do it anyway. I am not against raising the bar I just want everyone who goes down that road to be aware of the impact beyond that specific area.

1. Discouraging struggling students. Students who are already behind and struggle with the material as it is are even less likely to meet increased demands. The target seems even farther for them which as they become aware of the demands may actually discourage them from trying harder.

2. No teacher flexible time. If teachers are focusing on new and more challenging goals they will take any available time to make their students are making progress in that area. They will used the most comfortable "surefire" methods. That seems great except that it will prevent teacher from trying new things, whether supported by research or not. Teachers know that when you first try new things you waste time learning new ideas and finding "your groove" often it leads to a temporary drop in results. In a high expectation, high stakes environment they are much less likely to try new things.

3. Other subjects get "cannibalized". If you set a high bar in one area, say reading, teachers and administrators will cannibalize instructional time. They do not do away with other subjects they just give them less favorable times. For example unit studies tend to be pushed to the end of the day when kids are most restless and where the time spillover of the day is most felt. Officially science might have 25 minutes daily but in reality it is 15-18 minutes of actual instructional time. That may not sound like a big difference but over time we are losing a third of the instructional time.

4. New areas get no time whatsoever. You want to add future oriented skills like entrepreneurship? Coding? creativity? Engineering? It will not happen during school!

5. New pressures affect teachers in low performing schools disproportionately. If teachers give up on reaching standards with students at-risk they will move to other schools or leave the profession altogether. This is not because they are giving up on students but instead giving up on pleasing a system that seems hell bent on making sure they will fail even if students reach a grade-level standard.

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