Pass or Fail: Ensuring Follow-Through
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Once there are appropriate student standards in place to prevent retention and social promotion, how can we ensure they are followed?
Universality of application is so important. The goal of this common thread standard application is to allow students, educators, parents, and other stakeholders to be on the same page and to apply and follow through with the same standards in each educational case.
Maintaining consistency in the definition of standards is only helpful so long as those standards are applied at every point of contact with the student. Indeed, one of the underlying problems with grade retention and social promotion is a disparity in expectations among students. The standards for academic performance are applied, and yet there is rarely an invariable response and a clear follow-through when a student does not meet those standards.
It is not enough simply to have standards and lines of communication to discuss the needs of non-achieving students. Consistent standards need consistent follow-through. The consistency of academic standards is undermined if one student has access to significantly better resources than others.
In Succeeding with Standards: Linking Curriculum, Assessment, and Action Planning, Judy Carr and Douglas Harris talk about building a link between classroom practice, curriculum, and assessment, and using these links as a basis for creating an action-planning process for student learning. They show that it not sufficient to have standards that align well with the curriculum and assessment procedures; it is also critical that educators explicitly delineate the relationship between what students need to know and be able to do (learning standards), how learning is expected to occur (curriculum), and how progress is measured (assessment). In other words, there must be a clearly defined relationship between standards and other parts of the educational system.
Carr and Harris identify eleven areas that educators must monitor and integrate to link standards effectively. Those areas are (1) vision, (2) what is currently being taught and assessed, (3) a curriculum and assessment plan, (4) school decision-making, (5) resources, (6) a professional development plan, (7) supervision and evaluation, (8) student profiles, (9) a comprehensive assessment system, (10) reporting, and (11) an action plan.
Having all of these elements would ensure that there is a logical framework in place. Carr and Harris also propose that this framework be recursive (recur in a similar fashion from grade to grade), that it be sustained by ongoing commitment, and that it reflect the systemic nature of reform. A well-integrated system linking learning standards to these areas is needed if the needs of students – their academic needs as well as the related non-academic needs – are to be met. The key, inevitably, will be aligning resources to a series of educational standards that does not entail an emphasis on grading.
The vision for a revised public education system focuses on producing students who emerge from high school college-ready and career ready. The system must be capable of producing high school graduates who are, at a minimum, ready to begin a high-level career and can contribute to society as healthy, productive, and educated citizens.
With this vision, standards of education should help students to achieve some understanding of their strengths, interests, and academic weaknesses.
As suggested earlier in this series, there is a need for rudimentary standards for knowledge and skill sets in key areas. We mentioned literacy, written communication, mathematics, science, and languages, but we could add rudimentary knowledge of history, social studies, sports and health science, and oral communication to the list.
Standards should also allow students to pursue areas of interest and particular ability, however. A teacher should, for example, be able to spot a student who excels at mathematics through the application of basic standards and then allows the student to undertake higher-level studies to achieve higher levels of mathematical achievement.