Closing What Gaps?

I was recently honored to speak into a microphone in a Congressional hearing room and give my opinions about something called The Achievement Gap.

It is a heady thing to be asked to give your opinion. Into a microphone. With people taking notes. In seven minutes. Or less.

I am not a researcher. I am an excellent, professional, obviously humble 6th grade teacher from Utah. I have opinions on everything. And in this hearing room, with PhDs from Stanford and authors on best practices and researchers and statisticians, I had seven minutes to have folks understand, from the perspective of a practitioner, the opportunities and challenges and dangers of Closing the Achievement Gap between white children and children of other colors.

Would this audience understand we’re not talking about a test score? Would they understand that to define something as mind-blowingly complex as the achievement of a human-type child to a standardized test, you narrow what it means to teach and what it means to learn.

I was once on some talk show in Florida where a reporter said: Don’t you think you’re being a little hypocritical as a teacher being against tests.

I told that reporter, slowly and in simple words, “I’m a teacher. We invented tests. I gave lots of tests in my 6th grade. I gave essay tests and spelling tests and it counted if you put the comma in the right place. And you got a point if you gave me a good answer.”

But you got two points if you gave me a good question.

We had a science fair and the kids did experiments. Sometimes the experiments didn’t work. You still got extra points if you could explain to me WHY your science experiment didn’t work.

When my kids brought in a current event, if something moved them, I expected them to do something about it. Write to the Governor; send out a press release in their best cursive handwriting; hold a blood drive.

And all my kids – the Gifted and the Talented and the English Language Learners and the Disabled (and sometimes, by the way, it one kid who was a gifted and talented English language learner with a disability),…but all, all, all my kids fully participated as part of a team to design and execute a class project that had a real-world impact.

I told that reporter, “What kind of teacher would I be if I limited the experiences of my students so that I could maximize the time I spend drilling for the single, right answer on the standardized test?”

I would be the kind of teacher whose test scores would go through the roof. But I would no longer be a good teacher.

Focus on a test score gap shortchanges children. I wanted to talk about Achievement gaps. And I want us to do something radical about it.

We need a radical goal that moves beyond test scores. That moves even beyond graduation. The goal of a school system – preschool to 12th grade – must be to prepare every blessed child for higher education. Prepared for college: Community College – barber college – Harvard – the University of Utah.

Don’t even let it enter my mind that one of my kids might not graduate. Make me part of a system that prepares kids for what comes AFTER high school.

And let it all be based on the best research. Research shows that the most disadvantaged kids have an easier time in kindergarten when they’ve had a good, quality preschool with a trained Early Childhood Teacher. So the high school teachers are going to want to be sure their system includes that.

Research shows class size matters dramatically in early grades, and is essential for proper diagnostic assessment and individual learning designs that match a student’s learning style.

As students progress through the system, they need to develop the skills for the 21st century: Design, Analysis, Invention Communications, Creativity, Problem Solving, Organizing, Leadership, Team Work – skills that defy measurement by a one-size standardized test.

Start measuring the right things. Start setting the right goals. Start designing a system that works for all kids. But most importantly… start. Start.

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