The Challenge to Implementing Higher Standards with At-Risk Students

As a nation, we need to improve our academic standards to be more competitive internationally.  Moreover, testing to assure students are achieving those standards from state to state is not unreasonable, and our tests are frankly easy compared to some administered in foreign countries.  Unfortunately, the way we are implementing the improved Common Core standards, and the new assessments created for the standards, will likely lead to an increase in “the gap” between mean scores of poor and minority students and those of their more affluent, largely white counterparts.

One has to understand that Common Core will accelerate some standards.  For example, much of what is traditionally taught in 9th grade in many states is moved into 8th grade.  Struggling students suffer because they are missing pre-requisite skills that make it hard to master the grade level content.  Often, the problem is not that the student cannot learn algebra, but that he never learned to divide fractions.  Consequently, he cannot possibly solve the algebraic expression that includes the division of fractions.

If we try to increase the standards without filling in the missing pre-requisite skills, the student will only be that much further behind.  The challenge we see for most inner-city, at-risk students is that their schools often do not have the resources to provide one on one instruction (tutoring) to identify and teach to fill the missing skill gaps.  The teachers will often tell you that when the students leave their class, they know that a large percentage did not understand the concepts covered in the lecture, but the seats are already filling up with students for the next class, and they have no time to work with the struggling students that need help.

At New Century, a not-for-profit, we specialize in Intelligent Tutoring software to identify and fill the skill gaps, and we are working to set up programs after school to help close the gap and reverse the “summer slide” among poor and minority students.   With after-school instruction, the gap can be closed, but it takes diagnostics to identify the gaps and personalized learning paths to fill them, plus teachers to help intervene from time to time.

By addressing the skill gaps, we can successfully start raising the standards for all students.  Without addressing the individual needs of struggling students, we threaten to leave them further behind.