Six Hours Is All We’ve Got

High expectations are generally a very good thing. They motivate us to do our best, to accomplish great things, even when the odds are against us. Motivational speakers encourage us to visualize our successes…to be all we can be. No problem. It makes sense. If we believe it, we can achieve it!

On the other hand, educators have recently been shaken by the release of the results of the spring 2022 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This is a “no-stakes” test — no educators’ evaluation or performance rating is based on the results. Scores for individual schools or students are not reported. So, what’s the problem?

What has been reported is that a nationally representative sample of over 110.,000 students at grade 4 and a similar number at grade 8 showed the biggest drop in math scores since the testing program began in 1990. In addition, about a third of students in both grades can’t read at even the “basic” achievement level-the lowest level on the test. Of course, we know that much of the decline can be attributed to the recent pandemic and its accompanying isolation, confusion, and disruption. So, that makes it kinda alright, doesn’t it. Well, no. Consider these facts:

* In math and reading, 4th and 8th graders are performing on par with students on the first state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress in 1992.

* In 4th grade, Black, Hispanic, white, and Native American students’ average reading scores fell in 2022.

* Students performed worse in reading in both grades, be they boys or girls, low-income or wealthier students across most of the country.

* In reading, 37 percent of 4th graders and 30 percent of 8th graders performed below NAEPs lowest benchmark — the basic level — in 2022. That’s the largest pool of struggling readers since 2003 in 4th grade and 1994 in 8th grade.

* Nobody improved in math in 2022.

* Only 37 percent of 4th graders and 27 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math.

* Eighth graders in every kind of school — private, charter, and traditional public schools — lost ground in math, as did 4th graders in both kinds of public schools.

* Charter schools saw the biggest declines in math: 4th graders in those schools declined 6 points, to 232, and 9 points, to 268, for 8th graders.

* Last month, NAEPs long-term trend study, which uses a pool of mostly the same questions to compare the achievement of 9-year-olds over time, showed the first decline in math in the test’s 50-year history.

* ACT recently reported its worst results in 30 years.

“Houston, we have a problem.” (Swigert, 1970)

Marty West is Academic dean for Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, research fellow with the National Bureau of Economic Research, editor-in-chief of Education Next, member of the Massachusetts board of education, and member of the National Assessment Governing Board (which oversees NAEP). In response to the NAEP results, West recently stated that, “When we at Education Next surveyed parents in May 2022, the parents of only 9 percent of students said they were not confident their child will ‘catch up’ from Covid-related learning loss within a year or two. Today’s results suggest that parents are far too optimistic.Ouch!

It seems as though educators need to do something to turn things around, if we are going to achieve the goals of No Child Left Behind or the Common Core State Standards or Race to the Top or the Every Students Succeeds Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] or popular initiatives such as the Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) and Response to Intervention (RtI). And what about the impact on our efforts to address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Gradual Release of Responsibility and Social Emotional Learning and UbD and UDL. What about the Science of Reading and the Science of Learning and Culturally Responsive Teaching and…and…and…

So, let me go back to where I started. High expectations. I have worked with hundreds of teachers over the years and have yet to meet one who enters their school each day planning to do anything less than provide a great learning experience for their students. They do their best to leave behind the stress of whatever is going on in their home, in their family, in their community and in the world. They hope that today will be a day when there are no emergencies, no unnecessary meetings called to distract them from their work, no angry phone calls or messages, no new initiatives announced by the district, and, most importantly, no student breakdowns. If they are lucky enough to have such a day, all that remains is to provide five or six lessons that are well-planned, engaging, instructionally rich, motivating, carefully aligned with the curriculum for their subject, respectful of the individual cultures of the hundred and some students they will address, and reflective of the expectations held for them by their supervisors.

Let me offer a few current, relevant resources for your use. I hope these help. Mark

5 Simple Activities to Help Teachers De-Stress and Boost Their Resilience

By Elena Aguilar

9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know | Hey Teach!

By Chris Mumford, Hey Teach! Content Manager, M.A. Science Education

Schools, Not Teachers, Must Reduce Stress and Burnout — Here’s How

Educators’ health and well-being should be prioritized in school culture; school leaders can help create the conditions for that.

By Sarah Gonser February 11, 2021

The Teaching Profession Is ‘Crumbling’: What Can School Leaders Do to Help?

By Alyson Klein — May 20, 2022


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Mark Rosenbaum

Mark Rosenbaum is a retired teacher, teacher union president, principal, Assistant Superintendent, Superintendent, and University Instructor on Long Island, NY.