Equal education requires more help for kids who struggle

What is equity when we talk about K-12 students?

We agree with the definition suggested by Mike Neece of Advancement Via Individual Determination, a nonprofit educational organization: “Although no two students come to us at the same place/level, it is our job to ensure that ALL students leave us at a level of competence that gives them a high predictability of success in their next phase of life.” That next phase in “school” life is the student’s next grade level.

Equal and fair focuses on inputs to a situation. Equity focuses on outcomes. I started my teaching career 52 years ago. At the time, educators were told to provide the same amount of time to all children. That is “equal.” Classroom teachers were told to take students where they entered and move them forward along a continuum and that the next year’s teacher would pick them up at the beginning of the school year and continue the movement. There were no state tests, there were no graduation requirements except for seat time, taking certain classes and passing classes for credits.

What educators found over the years is that many students were falling further and further behind. In the early ‘90s businesses and colleges told the educational system that students were not at a level needed for society. That is when state standardized testing came into play. It was the tests and the transparency of what was really happening in education that then led to the tests being part of the graduation requirement.

This “loud” wake-up call tells us that we need equity to get our schools where we want them. We need to focus on equity, which in education means giving students the attention and the instruction needed to have them ready for the next level of instruction. This is not an issue involving the teacher evaluation system; it is a school issue in that the school must add “outside the school day” learning opportunities to give the students who need it, extra instruction and extra time to master the essential knowledge and skills. Teachers need to identify the students and the skills lacking; the school needs to provide the added opportunity, not for all students but for those in academic need.

Schools must work with parents to ensure that the ones who need it take advantage of the provided opportunity. We find parents eager for these opportunities; but the instruction just does not exist when they need them. Additional help should not be a choice; but an expectation.

In today’s educational classroom scene, how should we use the “opportunity gap” concept?

Opportunities need to be divided into two categories:

Those that are essential to the well-being of the child for academic success: English classes for parents so they can be in integral part of the learning process; additional skill-focused instruction on skills not yet mastered on the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WAKids) continuum or state tests.

Those that are nice to have and do add much to the child’s well-being: Story time at the library, math nights at school, career option nights, etc.

If a student does not come into the grade at a certain level of competence there is little chance that a classroom teacher can move that child; first, to grade level standard and then through the current year of instruction given 180 days for five hours of instruction each. This is a school’s responsibility. A program needs to be in place to use “outside the school day” after school, before school, breaks, Saturdays, etc. until the student is at a “grade level standard” as determined by teacher judgement and state tests.

Academic Link Outreach sees three benchmarks:

After kindergarten, using the WAKids and teacher information.

After third grade, using the results of the first Smarter Balance Assessment. Brian Benzel, previous superintendent of the Edmonds School District was right when he said, “If a child is not reading at grade level standard by the end of third grade, it should be as serious as having a heart attack.”

After middle school, holding the students accountable and responsible by turning in all assignments and passing the Smarter Balance Assessment.

Equity for school success means that we are intentional in selecting participants who need additional opportunities determined by either classroom teacher assessment or the results of measurements such as WAKids or the Smarter Balance State Testing program so they will have academic success at the next grade level.

Jan Link is president of Academic Link Outreach.

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