It’s no secret that principals are pretty stoked when students who transfer into their schools have a history of high scores on required annual tests. School leaders feel great pressure to perform in the public eye, and having a few more kids to bump those numbers up is certainly a welcome surprise.
It’s usually light hearted and all in good fun when they say, “ooh, we’ll gladly take her,” knowing that with each academically strong test taker, their overall school profile is likely to at least hold steady and hopefully even improve. The more 4s and 5s their students get on PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the better they look to district and state leaders, as well as parents, reporters, prospective home buyers, and the community at large.
I have no problem with a school leader wanting to land a good headline for performing well in every way, including on mandated tests. Who wouldn’t want a new kid coming in who scored double 5s on PARCC last year?
But this relationship needs to be a reciprocal one in which all parties get what they need. And in far too many schools, that symbiosis is missing.
The high achieving test takers are getting a raw deal.
Way too many students are boosting their schools’ numbers and getting nothing in return. They are bored and disengaged by classes that are too easy, teachers who don’t push them, and assignments that require little to no critical thinking. So while the schools bask in the glory of their top students’ test results, they fall down on the job of serving these very same students school day after school day.
Parents, including my own friends, report that every year in elementary and middle school their children bring home perfect report cards without having opened a book all semester. High honors and honors become the norm for the majority of kids, many of whom are coasting through classes that are far too easy. Some elementary parents complain that their children are essentially being used daily as teacher’s assistants because they have mastered the material while others in the class need help.
Dr. Elissa Brown of Hunter College warns against this practice in a piece at Edutopia last year:
Using gifted students as tutors or teacher assistants for other students in the classroom is inappropriate and unethical, and it does not provide for their social-emotional or academic needs. When an appropriately differentiated education is not provided, gifted learners do not thrive in school, their potential is diminished, and they may even suffer from cognitive and affective harm.
Plot summaries and book reports take up time and space in English classes of kids who should be crafting thesis statements, defending arguments with evidence, and pulling relevant quotes from the text. Instead they are literally writing something that could appear on the back cover of the book: a synopsis. Last I checked, kids don’t even write plot summaries in elementary schools anymore, not even the top-notch schools.
So, schools, we need you to stop riding the wave of your top students while giving them so very little in return. They want and need to be more engaged with a more challenging academic program. This would be a much more equitable give and take.
Erika Sanzi is a former decade-long educator, a former school committee member, a mother of three young sons, and an education advocate who consults for Education Post and writes at Good School Hunting.