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Bruno: High Standards Or The Right Standards?

3022651569_10f38da5a6_n"High standards" is one of those educational phrases that gets thrown around a lot without actually meaning much; if higher standards are always better then there's no reason not to start teaching calculus in preschool.

Nobody favors "low standards" in education, they just disagree about what standards are appropriate in different situations. Framing the debate as about "high standards" vs "low standards" only serves to gloss over reasonable differences of opinion.

And so it is with the Education Sector's new report finding that "High Standards Help Struggling Students."

Even if we assume that the authors have successfully identified more than correlation, what the report mostly illustrates is that talking about "high standards" in general terms is not very useful.

Much better, in my view, would be a look at specific standards to determine for which students they are - or are not - helpful. This sort of fine-grained analysis is harder and does not allow for broad generalizations, and it may undermine pleasant narratives about raising our collective expectations. Nevertheless, evaluating individual standards in context is likely to be of greater practical value.

What, for example, to make of California's requirement since 2003 that all 8th graders take algebra?  This was an example of a "higher standard" for struggling students who previously would not have taken algebra until high school, but was it good for them? Arguably not, with one recent study finding that 9th grade algebra students were much better off having passed a pre-algebra class in 8th grade than having failed an algebra class.

From a policy standpoint, then, whether standards are "higher" or "lower" is probably less important than whether they are appropriate for the students being held to them. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)



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As I tried to write this morning (perhaps I pressed "Preview" without ever pressing "Post"), the issue of when to start scheduling different curricula for different students based on demonstrably different rates of learning is one that all societies and education systems struggle with. Education Sector argues, rightly I think, that having higher standards -- that is, higher exam cut scores defining "proficiency" -- benefits students, including struggling ones, perhaps by procuring more assistance for those so identified. The California algebra study argues the contrary, with success here being defined as more successful attainment in 11th grade for less well prepared students who took general mathematics (rather than pre-algebra or algebra) in 8th grade. But the latter finding may be more particular to mathematics, sets a debatable definition of ultimate success for such students, and neglects the possibility that all our students would be better off learning algebra over three years of middle school in integrated mathematics classes like those offered in Taiwan and other of our friendly competitors across the Pacific.

This issue will continue to be struggle. Sometimes the standers in certain grades are set too high. This causes those students who are not on that level to struggle. This also effects their grades and gpa's. This will continue to be a ongoing problem throughout school for middle and high school students.

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