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The wrong end of the curve

February 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

When you think of a standard bell curve, the bulk of the area is in the middle 80% and there are equal amounts at the top and bottom 10%. Basic, right? I’m thinking you remember that from back when you were in school. Some teachers would adjust the test results to map the bell curve and often times the ones at the top would be derided for “blowing the curve.” I admit, I was usually towards the middle as I tended not to “apply myself.”

Fortunately, my kids do not act as I did in their ability and work ethic at school. They do so well, in fact, that my daughter, who is in 7th grade, has excelled for years to the point the school counselors have commented how they haven’t seen performance like this (regarding consistence performance on the standardized tests). That, alas, is where the problem lies.

“What?!” I can hear you say. “Your daughter is at the top of her class and that’s a problem?” Unfortunately, yes. The problem is she struggles against the pace of teaching in the classroom. She’s ready to move on upon first presentation of a concept while the bulk of the class still needs to work to get it. This has been the case for years. We even tried years ago when she was in 3rd grade to get her to be advanced to 4th. We were talked out of it by the principal due to “social adjustment” concerns. We were encouraged by a good 4th and 5th grade teacher (the same one both years) but the situation didn’t improve much.

When she began middle school in 6th grade, things got worse. As expected, some subjects were interesting and others not so much, but they all were not enough of a challenge to keep her interested. As her parents, we want to make sure that our kids perform to the best of their ability and get every opportunity to do so. We sought options and guidance. We spoke with counselors (who made the above statement) and while we got assurances that it is important to challenge kids who excel, we learned that the unspoken bottom-line is that the modern school system is geared to focus on the “bottom 10%” and just aren’t as committed to doing anything substantial for the remaining 90% and especially not for the top students.

I don’t have any problem with ensuring underperforming students improve. Schools should do what they can to help every student learn. The ugly truth is that at the administration level, the motive is to improve the performance on the earlier mentioned standardized tests. Kids at the bottom pull down the average and that average determines how much money they will get. Kids at the top? They’re great! They help us look good. So let’s spend ALL of our effort on the ones that are hurting us. Again, I want help for the kids that are struggling. I also want help for those that are looking for more.

As a result of the ongoing saga with school administrators, we have decided that it is time to strongly consider homeschooling. We’ve thought about it for years, but generally thought we could work with (and sometimes within) the system. That just isn’t the case. If our daughter wants to learn, it’ll be up to us to help that happen.

This will require some significant adjustments, but, then again, isn’t that usually the case with parenting?

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