In a comment on my recent blog post Tom asks: "How can we rewrite the federal education bill so that it actually helps student learn?" This is a huge question. The difficult issues of funding, evaluation, accountability, standards, and testing must be addressed in a politically feasible manner. I don’t know what is feasible but I'd advocate for these ideas-
Standards: I support national standards. As a population we are more mobile than ever and there should not be a drastic difference in the curricular content among states. This requires a level of monitoring and evaluation of states and educational systems. Currently this evaluation and monitoring is done by comparing the separate standardized tests in each state. Although these tests are given to every student multiple times throughout their schooling it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions since these tests vary in rigor and content. Our testing system needs reform.
Testing: Evaluation and monitoring of education systems is necessary for oversight and informed policy decisions. However this does not require the current two week assessment window, every child tested, a huge financial cost, lost instructional time, and enormous pressure on educators and students. Instead this should be done with a smaller randomized sample of students and less impact and intrusion on instruction.
Summative tests, currently the HSPE and MSP (sort of), are assessments of learning given at the end of a particular educational stage. Passing these tests is necessary for students to receive credits or in some cases progress to the next grade. Presently these are a part of a broken testing system. With rare exception, the students who come into the tenth grade performing far below grade level are the ones who are not going to pass the High School Proficiency Exam.
This idea isn’t new but I support summative tests at grade 3, 5, 8, 10, and 12. Students should not exit that grade until they are proficient. How can a fifth grade teacher instruct a student on comparing and contrasting an author’s inferred message when the student is struggling to sound out every third word? How can an eighth grade math teacher approach the Pythagorean Theorem with a student who struggles to multiply?
I’ve heard teachers say (myself included) I could teach 35 students if they came to me proficient in the previous year’s content. Let’s go with this idea-
It begins with half day Pre-K for all students and full day kindergarten. Before they leave kindergarten they need to know their letter sounds, numbers, reading behaviors, and should be able to read and discuss the events in a predictable text. Those who are proficient enter a first grade class capped at 24 students (35 is too many first graders for any teacher no matter how academically proficient the kids are). Those who are approaching proficiency enter a first grade class capped at 16. Those far below proficiency enroll in a class capped at 12.
Schools would use their ongoing formative assessment in grades 1,2,4,6,7,9, and 11 to reconfigure classes and to carry the model forward. The student who enters second approaching standard but exits meeting standard would enroll in the third grade class with the highest student-teacher ratio.
This model has imbedded funding implications. The schools with the highest performing students would have higher class sizes and would be cheaper to staff as long as they continued to maintain high student performance. The schools with lower performing students, ostensibly with underserved populations, would have a lower teacher-pupil ratio and would receive more funding.
This model is not without its challenges. Schools would need to take great care not to track students by providing some students with continual remediation while others engage in higher order thinking. I believe smaller numbers of students is important when serving struggling students in reading and math it is also important for students not to be ability grouped for other content areas.
Can somebody tell me why this wouldn't be an improvement? Maybe this idea isn’t ready to be written into law but couldn’t congress earmark some funding so some districts could try it?