Raise the bar. Lower the bar. Clear the bar.
A never-ending K-12 push is to raise the literacy bar each year to ensure children’s success in college and career.
The “bar” is the metaphor that educators use when discussing grade-level standards expectations. It’s a long scale from low literate to above proficient reading and writing. The 3rd-grade bar determines whether a child’s reading and writing performance is at “grade level.” Research indicates that if children get over the 3rd-grade bar, their success throughout school and into college and/or career is much more likely. That’s nice…and about as far as it goes.
Here’s a question: Why are we so interested in predicting career and college success, but not in children’s personal development as avid lifelong readers and learners? Unlike the far future goals about college and career, that’s a universal, irreplaceable ingredient in a good education, ensuring a firm foundation for pursuing success of any kind.
For 25 years we’ve been working to get kids to grade level and the graph of our progress is as flat as a primary-grade BIG book. So I suggest there are some things that may be much more impactful in ensuring “success” than a constant focus on proficiency instruction. And to get there, we need a bar fight.
If we were truly interested in fully educating children, wouldn’t we want them to become active and eager learners throughout K-12 schooling and on into their lives? To be well-prepared to research and discuss topics of their own choosing? To investigate and communicate about issues that express their personal values and interests? We’re not doing that.
How do I know? Because we are not measuring that.
If we are interested in a comprehensive education, then we need some bar-free standards. Constants. Things we want for kids all the time, like consistent attitudes about school and learning that ensure progress. Without assessing and pursuing these attitudes, in my view, every child becoming fully literate is pretty much out of reach.
Here are some examples of stable-bar standards:
Learner Relatedness. Are kids comfortably connected to and feeling cared for by their parents, teachers and peers? This is important because the lack of feeling secure can erode attention and effort.
Learner Enthusiasm. Are girls and boys excited to learn and eager to try things that will support further growth? The easiest teaching anyone ever does is helping children learn what they want to learn.
Learner Independence. Are children notably developing and maintaining a personal agenda for what they would like to take on next? Such instruction can keep youngsters fully engaged and energized.
We all know some kids with these three attitudes in place. They are happy kids, eager to head to school in the morning, committed to working hard and doing well… not for a test, but for themselves.
We also know kids without these attitudes. This is where we adults need to consider our own parenting and teaching bar regarding learner attitudes. While kids grow and mature, the bar based on these attitudes should never change. We need to work daily to keep every child above it. It’s a bar parents and teachers should fight for.