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Are we teaching the “right stuff?”

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

Recent studies are showing us two facts.  According to a recent study by the Center on Education Policy, math and reading are being taught MORE during the school day in 62% of America’s school districts, often at the expense of other subjects like science, social studies, and the arts.  But progress in raising math and reading scores has actually decreased since the passing of No Child Left Behind instead of going up, according to a study published in the Educational Researcher, despite the increased “back-to-the-basics” emphasis.  So if we’re teaching more reading and math, why are our students’ test scores not improving?  Why are the gaps in achievement not narrowing?  Perhaps we’re teaching the wrong things.... 

This is not to suggest that teachers are not teaching well; nor is it to suggest that we should be more closely tailoring instruction to state testing, or “teaching to the test”.  While this action might result in short-term improvement, in the long run, it is not the way to truly improve students’ reading and math abilities.  It is also not the way to decrease gaps between high-performing and low-performing students. 

Perhaps the problem lies instead with blanket instruction that does not take into account the needs of individual students.  More instruction does not necessarily mean better instruction, especially if instruction isn’t focused on using what the students already know to build new reading and math knowledge.  Many schools rely on state standardized test scores to drive instruction, when in reality, this kind of assessment does not provide the type of diagnostic data necessary to drive meaningful, differentiated instruction.  So while we may indeed be teaching more reading and math, we’re not teaching the reading and math that our students need--not only to be successful on state tests that are used to measure Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB, but also in order to develop meaningful problem-solving skills that will help them advance in school and in life. 

Tags: no child left behind, test scores, back to basics, reading instruction, math instruction

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