IMPROVING STUDENT SUCCESS IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

ABSTRACT: Students who are struggling in our public schools are ones who for a variety of reasons are experiencing barriers to learning and to succeeding in the classroom. They should be identified as early as possible, starting at birth, and effective intervention should be provided. For families who have issues that put children’s school success at risk, our public policies and programs need to do a better job of supporting these parents.

Our public school systems need to enhance their kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, and also to work with private providers of early care and education (ECE), to ensure that every child arrives in first grade ready to learn and succeed in school.

The primary goal of testing of children, in school and before they get to school, should be to identify issues in development and learning so that interventions can be provided. High stakes testing only serves to punish students, teachers, and schools. It does nothing to solve the problems and challenges that students, their teachers, and their schools are struggling to overcome.

Student success requires quality public schools, as well as quality early care and education programs. It also requires families that have the economic security, supports, and services necessary to nurture their children. Appropriate assessment and effective intervention, for children and families, are essential to ensuring that every child receives the developmental and educational experiences necessary for consistent progress and success at home and in school, from birth to high school graduation.

FULL POST: Students who are struggling in our public schools are ones who for a variety of reasons are experiencing barriers to learning and to succeeding in the classroom. These students need to be identified and they – and in many cases their families – need to be provided with the additional supports and services necessary to get them back on track. They should be identified as early as possible (i.e., starting at birth) and effective intervention should be provided because the costs to our education system, and to the children and families themselves, are much less if intervention occurs early on.

The research on early childhood development is clear: the school readiness of children born to parents with low income and low levels of education is at risk from the day they are born. In addition, school readiness is at risk for a child in any family with significant parental issues such as mental illness (particularly maternal depression), substance abuse, domestic violence, or incarceration. The children of first-time parents, as well as young parents, those with multiple young children, and those who are not fluent in English, are also at higher risk for not being ready when they reach school. Finally, some children have physical, cognitive, or health issues that put their school success at risk.

For families who have issues that put children’s school success at risk, our public policies and programs need to do a better job of supporting these parents. This should start with paid family leave for new parents, along with home visiting, parenting education, and other supports. It should include affordable, accessible, quality early care and education (ECE) – both so parents can work and so children receive nurturing care that supports their development and early learning. Parents need jobs that pay a living wage, provide a predictable and manageable work schedule, and offer benefits and economic security. And parents and children need specialized services to be available when they are necessary to meet crises or special needs.

Our public school systems need to enhance their kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, and also to work with private providers of ECE, to ensure that every child arrives in first grade ready to learn and succeed in school.

The primary goal of testing of children, in school and before they get to school, should be to identify issues in development and learning so that interventions can be provided. For those focused on improving school success for all children, this was the whole point of the requirements for testing in the No Child Left Behind federal education law of 2001. However, this goal got undermined and perverted in multiple ways. First, the resources to provide interventions for children who were struggling – that were promised as part of the law – never materialized. Second, the purpose for testing students got perverted from identifying issues and needed interventions to a focus on high stakes, judgmental testing. For students, the testing determined whether they got a high school diploma or not, or in some cases whether they advanced to the next grade or were held back. These high stakes outcomes were implemented despite the fact that the resources to help struggling students never arrived.

For schools, the high stakes judgements were whether they were declared “under-performing” and therefore subject to receivership and possible closure. For teachers, the results were mass firings when schools were declared under-performing or were closed. In some cases teachers’ pay was determined by student test scores. This is clearly unfair given that a teacher typically has taught a group of children for only one year out of their whole time in school. In many cases, failing students have been failing to achieve grade level norms throughout their whole school careers.

High stakes testing only serves to punish students, teachers, and schools. It does nothing to solve the problems and challenges that students, their teachers, and their schools are struggling to overcome.

The solution for the problem of children arriving at school not ready to learn and succeed is, first, to provide appropriate screenings and assessments starting early on – in the pediatrician’s office and in early care and education programs. And second, to ensure that when issues are identified the necessary supports and services are provided to the child and his or her family. Once children enter school, appropriate testing and needed interventions must continue in order to keep them on a successful trajectory.

Student success requires quality public schools, as well as quality early care and education programs. It also requires families that have the economic security, supports, and services necessary to nurture their children. Appropriate assessment and effective intervention, for children and families, are essential to ensuring that every child receives the developmental and educational experiences necessary for consistent progress and success at home and in school, from birth to high school graduation.

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