By Lesley Hagelgans
The new Common Core State Standards and related assessments such as Smarter Balance have been commended for the depth of critical thinking required to show mastery. That level of achievement is a great goal for students with an IQ in the normal range, but it sets others up for failure. Asking a person with an IQ between 70-79 to answer an abstract question about literature or algebra on a test would be like asking a blind person to read a book that is not written in Braille. So why are the new state standards and the related assessments asking 7-14 percent of our students to perform this way?
Just because a person has a lower than average IQ doesn’t mean they can’t succeed in our world. Instead, we need to reconsider our definition of success. The Common Core State Standards, presented by The Governor’s Council, redefined academic standards. The implication is that if a student can master these Common Core State Standards, they will be christened as being successful. By default, a student who cannot master these standards is a failure. A significant portion of the population will not be able to master the Common Core State Standards due to limitations beyond anyone’s control, therefore a large segment of people will feel, “You are not good enough.” Why is it that only measures set by the Common Core State Standards determine whether or not individual students are successful?
Every educator can remember the informational charts from their child development classes. Physiologically, some people won’t develop the brain synapses necessary for critical thinking until their 20s. Other people won’t develop them at all. Yet, that cognitive ability is essential for demonstrating success according to the Common Core. When those students fail, they will feel like they are not good enough. Their parents and teachers will feel like they did not do enough.
The answer is not a lowering of our standards and expectations. The answer lies in the process of testing itself. The field of education can learn a lot about learning from the field of neuropsychology. A person with a borderline functional intelligence may never grasp that y=mx+b, but if they were placed into a curriculum that supplied them with concrete real world experience, they could thrive. The key word here is concrete, because these kids are concrete thinkers.
Students in this category are often those same students who try desperately to succeed. They may not become the next Warren Buffet or Steven Hawkings, but they can contribute in many positive ways to their community through trades-based professions – the backbone of the United States – given the right support. These students have to work two or three times harder than their peers and often demonstrate half the ability due to limitations nobody can control.
Issues like this often don’t show up until sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. Why? That’s when the curriculum really starts to demand students to think abstractly. Once these adolescents consistently get the message they are not good enough, they shut down, disengage, or drop out completely.
What is the solution? That’s the challenge in education. We have to redefine success. Are we going to continue to tell these hard working kids they are not good enough because they cannot meet the demands of a rigorous curriculum? There are multiple measures that would identify the talents and limitations of students at an earlier age if cognitive diagnostic assessments were given to everyone. In a society that has become so data driven, we might be missing the most important data of all.
Rich data from cognitive diagnostic assessments would help educators to truly reach a child where they are and set them upon a path for lifelong success in various ways – gainfully employed, in any way, as a contributing, productive member of society.