School Rigor, Achievement Gaps, and Facing Reality

School Rigor, Achievement Gaps, and Facing Reality

Reading WTOP’s article – Study Hall: How to Determine the Rigor of Kid’s Schools – got me thinking about raising standards and the student achievement gap.

Three things came to mind:

1. Undoubtedly, we can and should increase rigor in our schools and classes, but the rhetoric in the field still seems to support the one size fits all notion – if we just increase the rigor and fix the quality of teaching, all kids will be able to rise to the occasion.  They won’t.

Kids in Study Hall2. We need to recognize that increasing the rigor and raising expectations for all children are commendable and necessary goals, yet they will likely have the unintended consequence of increasing the achievement gap between the most capable students and the least capable.

3. It may be time for Americans to realize there always will be an achievement gap and that this, in itself, is not altogether bad.  The persistent problem America has faced is that our current achievement gaps are based on demographic factors such as race and poverty – factors not necessarily related to the individual student’s ability to learn.  This is a serious problem.

If we can reach a point where the most capable students in poverty and in other traditionally underperforming groups are performing as well as the most capable students in the most affluent and advantaged groups, with the same pattern for the least capable students and throughout the ability spectrum, then perhaps the achievement gap will be based solely on the student’s capacity to learn. A major challenge in reaching this state, however, is to know when our educational policy and practice fail to separate ability from demographic and other artificial factors, and fail to overcome the challenges created by those factors.  That isn’t easy, and the danger is ever present that our societal norms and expectations, as reflected in the American education system, will continue to create an achievement gap based on factors other than the student’s ability to learn.

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