Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How Do We Define Achievement?

I've been doing a great deal of reading lately on the topic of achievement gaps.  It is fascinating reading, and what I've come to realize is that there really is LITTLE consensus on what achievement is.  Little wonder there are gaps all over the place, is it? 

Some people talk about achievement gaps between genders.  Those little boys struggle with reading compared to little girls, don't they, in the early grades.

Others talk about achievement gaps between culturally diverse groups in society.  Is achievement influenced by race?  Or is the achievement gap really a reflection of poverty, as suggested by others.  Which might be influenced by race.  Or is it?

Still others talk about achievment disparities that exist between nations, as evidenced by the recent publication of the latest PISA test results.

Are there really that many gaps in our systems? 

The more I reflect, with help from Tony Wagner, who's book The Global Achievement Gap I just read, I think the issue of achievement is most likely an issue with respect to how we define achievment.  I completely agree that different students may be at different stages of development academically.  As firmly as I believe that, I also believe there is absolutely ZERO gap with respect to their academic potential. 

So when we discuss, and try to attend to, acheivement gaps, what do we look at?  Is it Reading level that is how we define achievement?  If that is achievement, then we should clearly state that is our goal and pour our resources in that direction.  Or is it Math?  Reading and Math?  What about Writing?  Hard to argue with any of those, isn't it?  What about computers?

Tony Wagner identifies how graduates in today's society require critical and analytical thinking skills, as well as the ability to problem solve and to work in teams.  It is hard to argue with those being essential skills too, isn't it.

So what do we do next?  I think our system will be best served if we get some guidance (i.e. consensus) from society re: what high levels of achievement they most want to see our student attain.  Imagine how powerful our educational systems would be if we ALL understood what we were trying to achieve, and if we ALL worked to the same end?  Wagner's seven essential skills, plus language and number knowledge would be second nature for every graduate!

I look forward to working with our communities to help identify that collective understanding, and to seeing our students reap the benefits!  If you have the opportunity, please read the Global Achievement Gap.  It has the potential to be transformational towards your thinking!


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