What it means to generate high levels of student performance is debatable and controversial. High levels of student performance could be categorized as high-standardized test scores, attendance rates, graduation rates, or college acceptance rates amongst many other things. There are so many ways to judge student performance that it is almost impossible to compare high levels of student performance based upon so many different criteria. To ideally look at high levels of student performance I would focus on a combination of personal opinions of students, and their overall class grades over a number of years (looking specifically at improvement). To listen to students’ personal opinions is what would show their level of desire to learn, and how they view education, which I believe is the most important judge of student performance. I believe that high achievement should be fueled by an inner desire instead of an external factor. “If we touch enough kids at the same time with the same message, then it wont seem unusual to think, ‘I should do well in school, I should speak proper English, I should do my homework’” (Tough, 2008). The three overarching areas I would focus on to reform education in the United States would be to have smaller class sizes, shorter summer holidays, and much fewer more focused standardized tests.
Standardized tests are expensive and poorly overused. The way that they are being used now does not seem to have a concrete benefit for the students or teachers. I believe that if standardized tests were used effectively, purposefully, and specifically they could be of immense use to both teachers and students. I propose that there be 3 standardized tests a year that the teachers have a large part in creating. They should target different areas and administered once at the beginning of the year once in the middle, and once at the end of the year. After the first test the teacher should have full access to the results and evaluate what areas the students seem to be having trouble with. The teachers can then create different curricula for children at different levels that focus on the different areas that they are having trouble with. The second test can be used to evaluate whether the curricula has been affective and allow the teachers to create new focused curricula based on the results. The final test can go in and look at the final improvement on all areas and the results be given to the teachers for the following year. They should use the results to target certain areas the following year, so they have a good understanding of where the students are. In this way I think standardized tests could be extremely beneficial to both the teachers and the students and target specific areas and work through those so children’s education is personally relevant.
Smaller class sizes fuel many different positive learning opportunities. From kids being able to focus on different material at the same time, to teachers being able to give more attention to each child, smaller classes are extremely beneficial. In a class with fewer kids each child is held at a higher accountability. In a smaller classroom children can’t goof off as much or be off task as the teacher is able to keep an eye on them all. Children can be doing different tasks and the teacher is more likely able to give all different levels instruction and attention. When I went to a public elementary school in India there were 40 children in our class, and I sat all the way in the back and messed around with my friends without the teacher ever realizing. When I moved to a private international school there were 10 children in my class and there was no chance of me to not pay attention. With smaller class sizes the teacher is also able to be more aware of where all the children stand in their understanding of concepts. The teacher is able to keep track of all the students and choose to focus on different aspects that are causing kids trouble, which is almost impossible in classrooms with lots of children. Chris Kafoglis told us how focusing on different material based on each child’s learning was key to each child getting the most out of their education. When someone asked how he was able to grade and create so many different assignments for each child we learned how small his class sizes were. The size of the class made it possible for him to focus on all different children’s weaknesses and give them all the personal help they needed. I definitely feel like I learn much better through discussion classes, which are only attainable when the class is small enough to facilitate discussion. At Wesleyan I try my best to only take classes with less than 20 people in them, as those are the classes I get the most out of.
Another aspect that I think is imperative is longer number of hours spent in school every year. Teachers always complain that there’s not enough time to teach all the material that needs to be taught, and statistics of how much children loose over summer always shocks me. I always thought summer breaks were ridiculously long, and would often wish I was back in school. I believe the school year could be much longer for all kids, and kids who are behind and need to catch up should also have Saturday class options. If teachers had more time they could do more fun learning things as opposed to rushing through everything they had to teach. There could be more self discovery as opposed to memorization during time crunch (Dewey, 1938). I truly believe a child learns more about the physics of catapults by creating one than by reading the mechanics in a textbook. In seventh grade when I created my catapult through trial an error not only was I learning about the physics of catapults but about different materials that I could use. We then went to an old fort where we learned about the history about the area and tested out of catapults. I will never forget the things I learned during that experience compared to the many forgotten definitions I read in textbooks. Having more hours of school would allow teachers to do more projects like this and still get through all the material they needed to. It helps make the material more interesting and memorable and allows children to take initiative of their own education, which I believe are both essential in claiming one’s education.
I don’t believe that this reform will go into public schools and change everything around completely. These are just little steps that can be taken to create a more focused applicable learning style cheaply. Making education about each personal student and learning as opposed to passing tests and memorization is my focus. I don’t believe that this plan will help every single child, but I do think that it would help the majority and allow teachers to give each child the focus that they need.
Dewey, John. 1938. Experience and education. Macmillan.
Tough , Paul. Whatever It Takes. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2008.