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Failing Students Based on Standardized Test Scores is Irrational… but Persists Because of Our Mental

May 16, 2018

Diane Ravitch wrote a post drawing from an op ed piece written by Michigan teacher Nancy Flanagan decrying the Michigan’s third grade “mandatory retention legislation” that requires schools to fail any third grader who scores below a certain level on the standardized tests used to determine “proficiency”. Ms. Flanagan writes:

What to do about children who are not confident readers in third grade? We could begin by taking the resources it will cost to retain them for a year (minimally, $10K per child) and spending it on supplemental instruction: in-school tutoring, libraries filled with easy, engaging books, after-school programs, summer reading clubs and books for children to take home.

We could offer smaller instructional groupings. We could stop the merry-go-round of silver-bullet ‘solutions,’ from emergency managers to charter schools to one-size-fits-all scripted curricula.

We could genuinely invest in our children, believing in their capacity to master not only the skill of reading, but to become an informed, productive citizen.

Reading this brought to mind my favorite Peter Senge quote: “Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner”…

Politicians, parents, and pundits view time as a constant and learning as a variable instead of the other way around because we group and asses children based on their age. Standardized testing reinforces this structure and when standardized testing is linked to “promote” students from one grade level to the next by politicians it creates a group of “failures” who in many cases just need time to mature. It would be preposterous to “fail” a child whose physical maturation rate was different from his age peers, but somehow it is “rational” to “fail” a child who can’t learn reading and math skills at the same rate as his or her age peers… especially if that learning is measured by a seemingly precise tool like a standardized test!

It is possible to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each child by matching instruction to their rate of learning… but our current structure reinforces the practice of grouping children by age and comparing children to each other, which holds us prisoner to the current factory paradigm.

Ms. Flanagan essentially urges us to change the dominant paradigm by changing the one-size-fits-all scripted curricula. I wold take it a step further to suggest we need to stop the one-growth-rate-fits-all structure we impose when we group and assess children by age.

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