May 26, 2006

Ding Ding Ding

Here's the Memorial Weekend topic for Discussion.

K-8 Education. What should we expect students to learn in K-8. What constitutes a fundamental education. How should it be taught. Focus on Math and English Language Arts, but feel free to discuss other subjects. Be realistic. Break it up for the three main student populations:
  1. High performers. Kids who typically pursue a college education. The top 25%
  2. Average Performers. The middle 50%. Currently graduate from high school, but don't go on to college
  3. Low Performers. The bottom 25%. These kids currently don't graduate from high school. Let's exclude the very lowest performers who may not be educable to simplify the discussion.
What should each of these groups learn by the end of 8th grade. How should they learn it. How do you determine what is learnable. How do we assure it gets learned. Who is responsible when it isn't. Carry it through to 12th grade if you're so inclined. Be prepared to defend your answers. Feel free to provide constructive criticism.

I'll try to pull responses up to the main post for easy reading and typo correction.

I have an idea of what I want to write, but I'm going to watch a movie instead tonight.

Let's get it on.

Here's My Proposal

First define the goal. I'd use some independent rigorous standard like the College Board AP exams. So, the goal in math would be Calculus BC and in English, English Language and Literature.

Then define the sequence that satisfies the goal. For each course, a continuous sequence of classes would be defined that enable any student who progresses along the sequence to meet the goal. Such sequences, for the most part, are already present on the high school level. They need to be extended back to K. So being able to do calculus would be the end game of the math course, even if some students don't actually take calculus until college. Being able to read, analyze, and write about challenging literature (great books) would be part of the end game of ELA.

Next define passing criteria for each level of the sequence. These are cumulative end exams that define proficiency. Tests should be of the "Do It" type variety. For example, the student will be able to solve a set of problems of varying difficulty involving division of fractions with at least 90% accuracy. So something like this might be an appropriate end exam for fifth grade elementary math. Students who pass this exam will be ready to begin pre-algebra or algebra. ANother example: Given a grade-appropriate passage, students will be able to identify grammatical mistakes with 90% accuracy.

Assessments will be continual and frequent. Student performance will be monitored closely and when deficiencies are identified, remediation will be provided promptly, so the student doesn't fall behind. Since a sequence has been defined, projections can be made and student performance can be measured against the projections, ensuring prompt identification of lagging students.

At the K-8 level, all students would get the same instruction. However, not all students would proceed through the curriculum at the same pace . So, high performers might be ready for alegebra by 6th grade, average performers by 7th grade, and lower performers by 8th or 9th. At the high school level students would be able to specialize.

Schools would be able to teach however they want, but minimum levels would be set student achievement benchmarks determined by the best-performing curricula. So if we have an identified curriculum that can get 90% of the students proficient in elementeary math by the sixth grade, then that standard becomes the benchmark. Schools can teach whatever and however they deem appropriate, but 90% of their students (adjusted for SES/IQ factors) must be proficient in elementary math by the sixth grade.

4 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

hmmm...I thought I left a comment.

In fact, I know I did.

But where?

That is the question.

After reading the first chapter of THE WAR AGAINST GRAMMAR (a Verghis pick) I strongly favor formal instruction in grammar thru high school).

SteveH said...

The sad part is that schools (especially K-8), don't do this analysis in any way, shape, or form. You're lucky to go to any K-8 school (public or private) that can give you a specific, grade-by-grade curriculum and a syllabus for each class. They can't tell you what criteria they use to decide whether to hold a child back or pass them along to the next grade. Philosophy and assumptions are only stated using the most flowery of terms. K-8 schools are incapable or unwilling to define education in any sort of tangible way.

The Rain said...

My school has a curriculum brochure for each grade, based off of the state standards. Most of us could tell you the criteria we use when thinking about retaining a kid, but there's nothing written down.

I think your statement is far too generalized.

The Rain said...

Then define the sequence that satisfies the goal. For each course, a continuous sequence of classes would be defined that enable any student who progresses along the sequence to meet the goal. Such sequences, for the most part, are already present on the high school level. They need to be extended back to K. So being able to do calculus would be the end game of the math course, even if some students don't actually take calculus until college.

Here I think you've identified more of a problem than a solution. Too often we're told that we need to teach the beginning precepts of ________ (algebra, geometry, whatever) because that's what they're going to see in future years, when I think the time would be much better spent mastering the curriculum at the grade level.