Yet these teachers continue to struggle with a widespread, albeit well-intentioned, resistance to raising the level of learning. A new study of reading instruction in the 2021-2022 school year suggests that this bias in favor of reducing instruction is still with us — and may affect our ability to recover from the pandemic.
A look at more than 3 million children in more than 150,000 classrooms who regularly use the ReadWorks reading instruction program indicates that students were just as successful at lower-level work as they were at lower-level work. So their teachers rushed to give them more classroom-level assignments, right?
“That shift doesn’t seem to be happening,” said the report from TNTP, a nonprofit organization formerly known as The New Teacher Project. It has been working for 25 years to link poor and minority children to effective education. The report’s title is “Unlocking Gear: How Below-Grade Work Holds Students Back in Literacy.”
Public education faces a crisis of epic proportions
“Students are spending even more time on work below grade than before the pandemic,” the report said. “Students on the ReadWorks platform spent about a third of their time on texts and questions that were below grade. They even got 5 percentage points Lake below the level of the school year” than before the 2021-2022 school year.
“Students in schools serving more historically marginalized communities—particularly students living in poverty—were assigned the most work below grade. Students in schools serving the most students in poverty spent about 65% more time on texts and questions that were below grade level than their peers in the most affluent schools,” the report said.
The study does not compare the performance of students taking classes below grade with those taking classes based on randomly selected groups.
“We’re not making any data claims that learning acceleration improves X’s performance, or that students who were in a learning acceleration class had X better results than those who didn’t,” said TNTP spokesperson Jacob Waters. “We just want to point out that with a huge sample of assignments, we don’t consistently make the choice to give children access to classroom-level content, especially if those children attend schools that serve large numbers of systematically and historically marginalized students.”
Tom Loveless, a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me more research is needed before accepting the TNTP conclusions. He pointed to a randomized high school study in Florida that showed long-term benefits of under-grade remediation, even though the students in that program took two English art classes at the same time, one under the grade and one at the grade level. .
The TNTP study said students in high-poverty schools had less access to classroom-level work “even if they’d already shown they’ve mastered it.” Students in such schools who consistently passed elementary-level assignments were given less access to basic-level work in the future than students in more affluent schools who failed to master these assignments.
I’ve found in schools across the country that a gentle reluctance to put too much pressure on children leads educators to exclude low-income and minority students from challenging courses.
A peek into the classrooms finds ‘false promises’, wasted time and failure to learn
In 1987, two math teachers at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles produced 26 percent of all Mexican-American students in the country who have passed an AP calculus exam. The only reasonable explanation for this seems to be that many such students in other schools were capable of such work if they were properly taught, but their schools mistakenly believed that they lacked the ability. The recent success of IDEA network charter schools in Texas focusing on AP and IB classes for Mexican American children supports that conclusion.
However, it takes more than suppressing bad assumptions to improve schools. Thuan Nguyen, chief executive officer of the nationwide AVID program to increase student achievement, said teachers need “proven practices to support students when rigorous content becomes challenging and confusing.”
According to the TNTP report, the most effective way to change false assumptions about the abilities of underprivileged children is “to allow educators to raise high expectations and then think about what students goods can achieve when given the opportunity to read, write and discuss content-rich, meaningful texts.”
I would like to have more randomized studies on that. Wrong assumptions hurt progress in almost every area of human endeavor, but they are especially annoying when they affect children.
It’s not political. I’ve never seen a campaign flyer saying that we kids shouldn’t work hard. Improving the way we categorize our kids is something we can work on together.