Students in all classrooms – whether Kindergarten or high school, college prep or honors – have different readiness levels, learning styles, and interests. Students are different and require different approaches to ensure they all learn at high levels. It’spredictable. It’s common sense.
Some students will need more time to learn at high levels; not all students will learn on our time tables. It’s predictable. It’scommon sense.
There are students in our schools whose needs in foundational skills – in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior – will significantly impact their success in any grade level and any content area. It’s predictable. It’s common sense.
If we can predict these situations (and we can), then we can prevent the negative consequences that are likely to occur by actively anticipating student needs and proactively preparing supports, as a teacher, as a team, as a school, as a district.
Some may call this response to intervention, while others may call it multi-tiered systems of supports. I call it common sense in action.
In too many schools, the first opportunity for support come when a student has fallen so far behind and has experienced so much frustration that staff concludes that there must be something wrong with the student – that there must be a learning disability. Learning disabilities are very real and students with disabilities deserve the very best supports. Waiting for failure (or for a 1.5 standard deviation difference between ability and achievement) to identify needs and provides supports is not, however, a good answer.
On too many schools, “learning for some” may not be a phrase in the mission statement, but it is a reality. A close cousin to “learning for some” is the tyranny of low expectations, as in, “I’m not sure that all students can learn at high levels, but I’ll conceded that all students can learn something.” In either case, students and society demand that we reject the fallacy that some students will and some students won’t or can’t learn.
“The normal curve is not sacred. It describes the outcome of a random process. Since education is a purposeful activity in which we seek to have students learn what we teach, the achievement distribution should be very different from the normal curve if our instruction is effective. In fact, our educational efforts may be said to be unsuccessful to the extent that student achievement is normally distributed (Bloom, 1971, p. 49).”
We have not been prepared for the needs that we know exist. We are either heroically failing to prepare what we can predict or we just don’t believe in the mission statement that graces school marquees and websites.
We too often solve the problem of student differences by assigning students with labels, often accompanied by specific tracks. Ability grouping does not work (Hattie, 2009), once and for all for any student, and this includes gifted students.
Lastly, grade retention. There simply aren’t many scenarios that could logically lead to retaining a student in a grade. If a significant need in identified, then we must immediately provide an intensive a targeted support, and if the student does not respond, we must continuously adjust the support until the student does respond. If the student still is not responding, which should not be common (see Allington, 2011), then the team ought to request permission to conduct a formal evaluation to determine special education eligibility, upon receiving parental permission, so that even more intensive, targeted, and individualized supports can be provided. I do not see retention becoming an option, in most cases.
I encourage all of us to embrace a fierce, unwavering belief that all student will learn at high levels – we just need time and the right supports. Labels, tracking, repeating courses, and repeating grades don’t really require more work from us; they place the burden (and the blame) on students.