"Why is it that Johnny or Jennifer did not demonstrate proficiency on that reading test?"
The bigger question: “What is the best way to help children get up to speed?”
Students learn differently. They learn at different rates. They learn in different ways. Our job as a school system is to recognize these facts, and then do everything we can to help children overcome the barriers to their success.
When students do not progress as quickly as others in their grade level, schools cite some of these factors (not a complete list) that may create challenges for children:
Attendance: A student missed too much school and now must be caught up. We ask, “WHY was attendance a problem?” (Examples: Medical reasons, family dynamics; moving from place to place--many reasons that are no fault of the student) A schools' response: Devise ways to increase a student’s attendance.
Information Processing Issues: Students may need different instructional cues to learn a skill or concept. We ask, “What skills/concepts are lacking? Why? Do we see auditory or visual processing issues? Practice issues?" A schools' response: Review students’ work/behaviors to figure out different instructional strategies.
Family/Medical Issues: Sometimes things happen in families that make it impossible for children to concentrate on academics. Usually these are temporary instances, yet it may take children/families longer than others to resolve a problem and thus catch a student up. Student motivation, the ability of a parent to be able to support student learning at home, the communication between home, school, other caregivers all become factors schools must take into consideration to most effectively help a child. Each situation is different, requiring educators and other professionals together to address the foundational causes in the most sensitive manner.
Lack of long term, systematic exposure to information: Students learn at different rates, and may need more time to fully understand information so that it can be applied. Scaffolding what has been learned to other concepts deepens learning and helps a person make meaningful connections. Education isn’t a race. Everyone can win as long as opportunities and support are provided.
Guided Practice: Have you ever taken piano lessons? If so, you know that practicing makes the difference between being a two-finger-key-pounder and someone who can play a recognizable song. Just like piano playing, skills such as being able to recite math facts as well as how to fluently read a paragraph increases understanding of “the whole” and improves performance. When schools identify that students lack practice, programs are created to give students more practice, and care is taken to help parents know how to help their children practice.
It is also important to note that if a certain set of skills in a content area (example: reading) are not at a proficient level, it doesn’t mean other content areas (example: math) are in need of help. Teachers know that just retaining a student due to one troublesome area, is not only an ineffective solution to help a student gain proficiency, but they also know retention may impede a child’s academic progress in other content areas, while removing the child from his/her peer group.
My point is this: No one single solution can sufficiently address student achievement. All children are unique, and are entitled to a personalized education taught by a school family that cares. We have to remember that we are working with children—children who have friends, families, and teachers who are part of their world.
If you have a desire to help children, take time to find out WHY individual children sometimes find learning a challenge. As the “reasons” are discovered, solutions can be sought—but let these ideas be thoughtful and respectful of the unique needs of our kids.