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Student academic abilities vary, but standard tests know only one

IQ Bell Curve
IQ Bell Curve

Students have different abilities to learn. We know that if we we have a large enough group those abilities form a continuum along a Bell Curve. However, our education system has been ignoring this for many decades. We want to test all students to a single standard and have been doing so for a long time.

Then we complain loudly when half the students don’t score to or above that standard.The results are not acceptable. So instead of accounting for the variation in academic abilities, we began lowering the standard. That’s still unacceptable, so we lower the standard again; and again and again.

Why? Because many in education and in the government believes we should all meet a national standard. Does anyone stop to think that this is completely contrary to our knowledge that “learning abilities vary”.

Many in education and government apparently believe that we can appreciably change an individual student’s learning ability by changing the environment and/or methods of instruction. There is no doubt that these will help, but I doubt they it will appreciably increase learning ability or IQ scores.

After nearly a decade of “No Child Left Behind”, and in the last few years over $16 BILLION spent on “Race to the Top” the slide to less than mediocrity continues. The apparent gains are primarily a result of a continuing lowering of standards.

Why are we not content to teach our students to the best of their individual abilities? Yes, I understand that colleges and universities must have standards for entrance exams, but that is another issue. Teaching students to the best of their abilities has nothing to do with what a college considerers their minimum requirements are for entrance into their school. Colleges can decide what SAT score is acceptable. Primary and secondary schools should be lauded for teaching a student to his/her capabilities.

Why do we go on year after years lamenting the fact that half of our college’s first year students fail freshmen English and College Algebra and a third never finish college at all. That’s another issue as well and will be address in another article.

But what can we do about dealing with the issue of different learning abilities? Some perspicacious administrators are doing their best to cope with the problem by developing differing curricula and awarding different levels of high school diplomas.

In addition the administrators are trying to upgrade their faculties by hiring only the best teachers and getting rid of their under-performing ones, but in some jurisdictions the latter is very hard to do. It has always amazed me that just about any institution in the country can fire a Ph.D., a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, but many school districts can’t fire incompetent teachers without paying a million dollars in legal fees. But that too is another issue.

It is encouraging that some administrators and school districts are trying to address the problem, but unfortunately they are few and far between. Let me know if you have any other ideas to correct the situation.

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Dick Kantenberger

National Gifted Education Writer,
Houston, TX 77024-4026


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