We’re Closer Than You Think
Have you ever wondered how Delaware students compare to those from different countries around the world? Or, rather than searching for the average of all students, thought about how our best and brightest stack up? If you have, then a recently published report should interest you (an interactive map of these results can be found here on The Atlantic Magazine’s website).
In the report, researchers go beyond the traditional nation-to-nation comparisons and break down the percentage of students demonstrating advanced skills in math, reading, and science at the state level*. The researchers further disaggregate the data in math, and cause quite the stir, by highlighting that white students and those with at least one parent with a college degree – those whom are typically believed to be high-performing- don’t perform as well we’d like to think. This isn’t a problem of low-income or minority students bringing down the average; rather, this is an issue that concerns all our students.
The report ranks Delaware 28th nationally, tied with Maine. It lists our international equals as Israel, Italy, and Latvia. While we could easily be disconcerted by the results, breaking down the data to more meaningful and manageable numbers demonstrates that Delaware, although currently in the middle of the pack, is more than capable of closing this gap and lifting student achievement up to the highest levels.
As the report highlights, 5.0% of Delaware students scored at advanced levels, or 476 of the 9,519 8th graders in Delaware’s 35 middle schools. Massachusetts, the top ranked state, had 11.4% of their students scoring advanced. In order to equal Massachusetts, we would need to increase our number of advanced students by 609. That is, on average, 17.4 more advanced 8th grade students per middle school. When we break down numbers in this fashion, the problems before us don’t seem as daunting since we can create a frame of reference that we see everyday within our schools and classrooms. This holds true for all students – not just for those scoring at advanced levels.
Therefore, when thinking about potential solutions, it’s important to consider how all of these little changes could work together to increase student learning across the board. We could provide greater flexibility to districts to make staffing decisions that meet the needs of their students. We could utilize evaluations in a more meaningful way by identifying strong teachers to act as instructional leaders, improve instructional practices of our mid-level performers, and either improve or exit ineffective teachers. We could provide a rich curriculum that engages all learners. We could alter our compensation structure to better recruit and retain top teachers and leaders. The list goes on and on. Being the best in America is achievable, but we must be willing to step up, acknowledge that what we’re currently doing isn’t working, and work together to craft a vision and implement ideas that raise achievement for all students.
*In order to compare performance between states and nations, researchers compared international performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to American student performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).