Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gifted Kids - Are They Being Left Behind?

The basic premise of the Common Core national standards - and the associated national tests created by PARCC and SmarterBalanced (not the vegetable spread) - is to create common grade level expectations for all students to ensure equal access to a high quality education which will prepare them for college and careers. At least that's the premise. Of course that commonality and "standardization" is troubling to some in the education community, especially those who exceed the standards. Clearly, the quality of schools across the country - and even across cities and districts - has been varied. And there was a good chance that if a child moved schools, or states, he would arrive either behind or ahead of his peers. The problem, on the other hand, is that not all children arrive at school at the same levels, and not all children learn at the same pace.

One common mantra in the current controversy and debate about Common Core is that the standards are designed to "create a common floor," not a common ceiling. However, the standards in practice were bound to create challenges for sub-groups outside of the basic age-level expectations. This conflict received a sensationalized exposure in the past week after Chris Weller for Newsweek offered this claim: "America Hates Its Gifted Kids." The premise is that schools working toward the Core are inevitably going to slow down advanced learners. And, it's tough to argue that isn't happening as schools begin to move away from tracking or clustering of kids and instead maintain heterogeneous classes with the expectation that a teacher will "differentiate instruction" to meet all kids learning needs. It is a wonderful goal and theory, though some argue that differentiated instruction is dog that won't hunt.

Ultimately, kids don't arrive at school all at the same level, and not all arrive ready to learn. Certainly, not all learn at the same pace. And it's tough to argue for holding some learners back, or limiting options for advanced learners to progress. Certainly, people are aware of the controversy over where Common Core stops - algebra II.  That limit is what led Stanford math professor James Milgrim to refuse to sign off on the standards - because they do not prepare kids for top tier colleges and STEM careers.  I know as I began to prepare for state testing this week, I had to laugh at preparing basic level tests for students to take when they were clearly beyond them. For example, many middle school students are ready for - and even succeeding in - high school level math classes like geometry, algebra II/trig, and calculus. And, it is simply silly - and a huge waste of time - for ninth grade students taking calculus to waste their time doing a state or national test geared toward algebra and lower. They should be exempt. For, the only people their grades should be truly accountable to are their parents. So, while Weller is certainly over-the-top with his title, I am not so sure that CommonCore and PARCC aren't going to hold kids back and waste their time.

Who knows?  Age level grouping may be the next big challenge in schools.

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