The US education system has been in a continuous cycle of reform for decades, yet the National Center on Education Statistics reports that between 2011 and 2016, the overall average reading score for U.S. fourth graders declined (“NAEP Mathematics and Reading Highlights”, 2019).
Similarly, between 2013 and 2017, the overall average math score for U.S. fourth graders declined (“NAEP Mathematics and Reading Highlights”, 2019). We are surrounded by innovative curriculum and intervention programs. Why are we not seeing improvement?
The accountability pressure on teachers to attain high math and literacy scores often results in math and reading curriculum changes (Hattie, 2009). If changing WHAT curriculum is being used is not working, it seems reasonable to deeply analyze HOW the curriculum is being implemented. There are two important areas of focus when looking at how our children are being taught.
First, teacher knowledge and instructional abilities are well-known determining factors in student growth (Griffith, Massey, & Atkinson, 2013). In fact, studies have shown that it takes just five years of having a highly effective teacher to erase a student’s achievement gap (Hansuhek, 2005). That is, if a student begins school two years behind, he or she will be at grade level by the end of fourth grade if his or her teacher is rated as highly effective.
Second, when looking at the data used to inform instruction, the US education system has a serious case of tunnel vision. Less than 20% of the factors that are critical to student growth and achievement are assessed and used to make the hundreds of education decisions that happen in a classroom each and every day. Reading and math scores and whatever the latest trends are makes up the 20%. This means that 80% of the factors known to be critical to school success are largely ignored, and teachers are expected to be highly effective with an incomplete view of their students and classrooms.
This 20-80 effect, whereby teachers have only a fifth of the information about their student needed to be effective in the classroom, may result in reduced social and emotional skill building, decreased student engagement, and lower student achievement.
In classrooms across the country, we at best sporadically and inconsistently assess and make decisions based on information about student engagement, social-emotional learning, work behaviors, and many other foundational learning components critical to student success. Meanwhile, declining achievement continues to manifest in diminished graduation rates, lack of preparation for success in college or the workplace, and societal trauma (Garner, Thorne, & Horne, 2017, Vu, 2012).