Most of the focus of the “Achievement Gap” is on moving students, especially those that are not at grade level, to a level of proficiency that can be measured on standardized tests. The math MCAS in Massachusetts is the state wide test given to students in grades 3 – 8. The latest results of the test are illustrated in this achievement “pie” which shows results for the state: 17% are failing, 30% need to improve academically, 33% are proficient and 20% score at an advanced level.
If there is $1,000,000 to spend on these students – how would you allocate it?
Most of the funding would be spent helping those that are being left behind, failing in the subject material, to gain skills that move them toward proficiency. The funds so allocated would help constrained district budgets to add special remedial programs for those students that have not been able to extract learnings from their daily classes (for whatever reason). Is the focus on moving those most in academic need appropriate, providing the greatest societal return? The question seems sterile and clinical as if we are not talking about children, families and communities. But it is a question that should be asked even if politically incorrect.
There are students that with slightly more attention, encouragement and self motivation could become proficient, achieving a standing within their respective grades that may serve to inspire them to become self motivated learners. These students may require differentiated instruction to ensure that the material conforms to their learning styles and abilities. This group also needs motivated, well educated teachers with expectations of performance that will not accept less than proficient performance. This group is large and the gains made will impact many children, families and communities.
Another “achievement gap” that goes mostly unreported is the gap in the “advanced” scoring students from one community to the next. In some affluent communities, their advanced scoring student population is in the 40% to 50% range. In other communities, mostly lower income, the percentage of advanced scorers may be as low as 4%. In Massachusetts, 20% of students score at an advanced level on the math MCAS across grades 3 – 8. Is it possible that many students that have the capability to score at an advanced level are merely passing at proficient. In other words are we so focused on getting to proficiency for the underserved communities that we are missing those students that could easily achieve an advanced score if they had been in an environment where that was the expectation?
Should finding students that have the capacity to achieve advanced scores on tests like the MCAS be as important as moving failing students forward? Some could argue that it is. The data clearly shows that within even the most dysfunctional school systems in the state there are small groups of advanced achievers significantly outperforming their school peers and the majority of students state wide. These students are truly outstanding. It is easier for an achiever to find their place in districts where advanced students are 40% or more. But those students that are achievers in districts where they are obvious exceptions are remarkable and they should be identified as such.
These are future leaders, that through some of the most trying situations, have been able to demonstrate ability that come easy to others. Finding these students, providing them with encouragement, a great education and more importantly a sense of a like minded, academically focused, community is imperative to the future of this state and this country.
If we have $1,000,000 to spend – how much are we spending on them? How much are we investing on developing the leaders that will bring our communities out of the grip of generational poverty? Find the leaders, invest in them, educate them with real world knowledge, inspire them to service and they will change their world.