Mathematics Topics

Student Progress

Just about every survey of parents I have reviewed lately has had this issue as one of the top concerns.  The number one concern is always safety, of course.  Parents want discipline in the schools.  Lately there has been a tremendous push toward higher standards (I have more to say on that issue further on), but one of the issues always mentioned in talking about raising the standards regards what to do with those students who don't quite meet the standards.  Whether we have high standards or low standards there will always be a number of students who do not meet the goal which has been established as the benchmark.  So what do we do with them?

There are no easy answers to this dilemma, folks, no matter what the politicians tell you.  It might seem easy enough to say that we do not allow these students to move on until they have mastered whatever skills have been decided upon as the benchmark for that level, but there are a couple of problems with that position.  First, can we be so sure that we have identified the truly important benchmarks that determine the potential for success for every individual?  Second, is leaving that student where he/she is the best way to handle it?  I can tell you that as a parent, even though I believe in individual responsibility and earned credit, I would not want a sixteen-year-old boy sitting in the class with my eleven-year-old daughter.  You see what I mean?  It sounds good, but has some consequences.  This attempt to satisfy one goal, to raise standards by forcing students to master content in order to move on, will adversely affect another goal, safe schools.  There simply are no easy answers.

I do not personally believe that so called "social promotion" is at the heart of the problem.  We should concentrate our efforts on the vast majority of students who do meet the goals rather than on the handful who do not.  I have seen the research which demonstrates that retaining students, in general, does not benefit them.  In rare situations, where the student has had an illness which caused a great deal of absence, or when a student is simply not up to the maturity level of most classmates, it could be beneficial.  Otherwise, it is more likely to result in decreased rather than increased expectations.  This matches my experience with students.  In my early years of teaching, when I was teaching students who had been retained, I do not remember a single student who did it any differently the second time around.  I have seen many students, however, in more recent years who suddenly "saw the light" and responded to modified instructional strategies in an environment which was rewarding, and in which there were no "Flunkies."

What do I say to my students who ask about the promotion status of that individual who rarely comes to school or rarely does nay work?  I ask them if they feel it would do any good to leave them around here for another year.  They know it would not do any good.  Then I remind them that my assessment of their learning is not based on promotion or retention.  It is the letter grade they receive, along with other recognitions, which corresponds to my assessment.  The student who receives ad "D" or an "F" and passes on to the next grade has not received any endorsement from me.  Students respond far better than you might think to this.  Most students want to be successful.  The threat of being held in the same grade is no great motivator.  They are far more likely to be motivated by someone who recognizes their worth.  I'm not talking about their worth as a human beings.  That's a given.  I'm talking about their worth as performers and contributors, people who are worth something in the real world.

Key Topics

Calculator Use
Cooperative Learning
Student Progression
Assessment Practices
Higher Standards