Millions of dollars in our country are being spent to help low-achieving students in public schools excel. And that’s good. But what can we say about our high-achieving students? How many programs and how much effort do we, as a state, provide to the student that has passed his FCAT? In our country, just how much time is spent by a typical classroom teacher on the needs of the top student performers?
Not much. Fewer than 25 percent of teachers surveyed (Fordham Report, 2008) reported that high-achieving students were their top priority. That means that the majority of academic support is given to low-achieving students the majority of school time. The problem with this focus is that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—that notorious organization which ranks school systems among the industrialized countries—doesn’t even list the United States in the top ten. For several years, the U.S. has waffled between a disappointing 14th and 17th place.
More baffling news? The two-part Fordham Report also revealed that the United States produces more high-achieving students than any other OECD country-more than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. It also stated that there are more high-achieving African American students in the United States than there are high-achieving students in all of Finland (Finland has always ranked in the top three of the OECD report).
In our effort to advance student achievement scores to higher heights, one cannot help but ponder on whether our resources should not be distributed equally among all students, regardless of their academic standing.
Yes, we have honors and advanced classes, but are they truly rigorous and challenging? Less than 50 percent of teachers surveyed said yes. Are teachers trained to address the needs of gifted students? 67 percent reported no.
The No Child Left Behind legislation was primarily designed to set high standards and establish measurable goals that would improve individual outcomes in education in our country. Standards were set in each state and Florida developed the FCAT in the process of measuring accountability. The pressure, however, has been in pulling the achievement levels of the students at the bottom of the rung. Instructional strategies were put in place to assure that these students reached a Level 3, the passing point. Lots of tax dollars have been spent in this effort.
Imagine for a moment that you are a student who passes FCAT on the first try in the third grade all the way through high school. What is happening in the classroom to spur you on to improve further? Or are you in a class where lessons are being relegated to cover and review material that you already know? With the recent emphasis on pay merit being based on test results, rest assured that most teachers will spend an inordinate amount of time targeting the lower-achieving students.
As the FCAT results come in this year, many people will be holding their breaths in anticipation of seeing how many students met the Level 3. They will breathe a sigh of relief for their students who have made it. In Florida, district and school grades are based on it. A few will bother looking at advances, if any, in the high levels. It will be deemed as a nice accomplishment, but not a crucial one.
Earlier this year, our president announced a new initiative to promote science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in our public schools. While there are those who are fighting for school reform which addresses the needs of the lower-achieving students, many believe that the time has come to meet the president’s challenge and pull those high-achievers up to the next rung.
It’s about time we champion our scholars!