disapproving kitty

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Leaving Behind No Child Left Behind

I heard a comedian once talk about getting a driver's license in New York, which consisted of some extensive training, hours and rigorous testing, and comparing it to getting a license in Ohio which is mostly the examiner saying "If you are taller than this line...."*

It's a great punchline, but it's also depressing when you consider how the same theory has been applied to education. Back in 2002, it's what the Bush Administration† established with No Child Left Behind. All kids had to pass a minimum bar as established by these one-size-fits-all tests. Makes sense to have minimum standards, right? I mean we had kids graduating that couldn't read for crying out loud! (Newsflash: we still do.) Districts poured money and resources into special ed and remediation. Some kids with special ed ID's were exempted from these standards, and numbers of kids with SpecEd ID'd soared. So did numbers of kids with anxiety and depression.**

Money also poured in to testing companies and into tutoring companies and the one place more money didn't show up was, you guessed it, gifted ed.
Gifted kids walked in the door able to pass those "minimum standard" tests. So nobody needed to teach them anything. They were going to be a tally in the positive column pretty much no matter what, so why waste time on them when the school was going to get slammed heavily for every child beneath the bar?
Gifted kids got left behind. 
That's the legacy of NCLB and it has been devastating to our students. We spent 13 years being encouraged to ignore the gifted in service of this backwards mandate. 13 years. That is an entire school career for a generation of children. 
ESSA came along and established that not all kids need the same bar but maybe they all ought to make a year's growth each year instead. It's still all determined by highly flawed testing and questionable statistics, and without doubt it's far too heavily driven by the testing industry (I'm looking at you, Pearson.) At least, though, educators are realizing that for the past 15 years the group with the least amount of growth each year, to the point of sometimes moving backwards, is gifted students.
While the new law is bringing about some needed attention to gifted kids and their needs, we also have a generation of now-veteran teachers who have lived for more than a decade in a culture that focused exclusively on bringing up the low kids as the Number 1 Top Priority. Above all else, get those students past the bar. Even today teachers will admit that the couple of gifted kids in their classroom just "aren't a priority" because there are so many other kids who are behind. The notion that the gifted children are likely even father behind on their "year's growth" than the other students are is simply not considered.
So we're ever-so-slowly moving the focus on growth for all, rather than a single target for all. It's an improvement, to be sure, but as an advocate for gifted children, it's still not enough. Because a year's growth for an average child looks different than a year's growth for a gifted child and we still aren't recognizing that yet. We have embarked on an era of differentiation and personalization but we're still using a single test as the measure of all our children and our schools. We're embracing "growth mindset" but not understanding (and even actively fighting against) the idea that valuing all students equally does not mean believing they can all do the same things. 
We have begun, in education, to recognize that gifted students deserve a year's growth, but we have yet to realize that simply setting that expectation upon overworked classroom teachers is not enough. Even with extra training, it is too much to expect a single teacher to oversee a year's growth for every child, including gifted ones, without support. The range is just too great. We have unparalleled support for struggling students (as we should). It's time we invested even 1/10†† of that in our gifted students, don't you think?

*It's an exaggeration, but not by much.
†The even more horrifying part is that Dubya seems like a solid elder statesman now, by comparison.
**Yes, I know post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a fallacy, and there's a lot more going on than just testing, but I'm positive school stress has played a part.
††recently a teacher told me there are more gifted kids ID'd in her building than special ed kids, and they have 1/2 a gifted teacher and 7 special ed ones. 1/10 the support would be an improvement.

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