Are Some Kids Branded Academic Losers?
If failing finals is an indicator, then they are. In my county—with some of the highest-ranking schools in the nation—we just learned this shocking data : 61% of our high schoolers failed Algebra 1, 62% failed geometry and 57% failed Algebra 2. Wow. The thinking goes that since these are the “on-grade-level kids” (aka “losers” in our lovely system), they are less motivated to study than their “above grade level” peers, and therefore more likely to fail. But look at the stats we are presented with for these supposedly more motivated kids taking honors courses: Geometry: 36% fail; Algebra 2: 30% fail. Seriously?
Here’s my worry: too much relying on testing, which feeds into kids getting branded as certain types of students, which leads to their loss of self-confidence, which is then fed by not receiving the best possible teaching.
On a personal level, we got a little dose of this with our high schooler. One semester, his (young and inexperienced) math teacher refused to take questions in class because she couldn’t do this and still get through all the to-be-tested material. A previously favorite subject suddenly became a world of lost confidence. We were lucky enough to be able to work with a tutor, who answered questions and offered the missing support. And the result was our student did just fine. But while he was struggling, the guidance office–where we were already signing up for the next year’s classes–was already ready to demote him to the dreaded “on grade level,” suggesting he couldn’t hack math. Fast forward to a new math teacher in the next semester who was more experienced and fielded questions in class, and voila, test scores improved.
How many other kids is this happening to every day? Probably plenty.
At a national education conference, I interviewed Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy . He shared his theory about how kids get branded as certain types of students and what we can do about it. You can watch his video answer to my questions here…
Khan’s ideas have been revolutionary in changing the school systems that have adopted his platform. One of the many changes his method has brought about is the “flipped classroom”—that is, where teachers let kids work on material in advance, often using technology to access tools and materials. With the outcomes of this work (Khan can provide metrics), teachers learn what their students’ strengths and weaknesses are BEFORE they plan their lessons, then plan and teach accordingly. Children who need more work in a particular skill can then continue to do that work both inside and outside the classroom. That way, more students gain mastery of the material, the teacher becomes a guide rather than someone spouting facts, and students learn strategies they need to overcome challenges in the subject matter.
Wouldn’t it be great if my county could get on board with this new approach to helping children succeed as lifelong learners?!
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