• by Blaine Helwig

Align, Teach, Practice and Do Well!

A middle distance runner competing in a 3,200 meter or 5 kilometer race practices and trains differently than a long distance runner competing in a 26.2 mile marathon race. And, of course, a middle distance runner and marathon runner would practice and train differently if their goal was a Usain Bolt 100-meter sprint time. Of course, these situations are more than obvious to any adult whether they have any experience in track and field or not. In summary, the length of race determines the alignment of training and preparation.

In the public schools, formative, weekly or summative unit assessments, as well as standardized testing, should not be a difficult task to break down, either. In fact, it is roughly the same process as training and practicing for a running race of varying distances. The type of assessment determines the length and preparation of the race in public education. If the student is taking a formative assessment during a lesson, the classroom teacher is more than aware of the daily lesson’s objective; thus, the assessment is a simple comprehension check. A weekly or Friday assessment takes planning, preparation for a minimum of four days. The teacher evaluates the Friday assessment and aligns the instruction during the week ensuring that the content is sufficiently covered so students are prepared. The same is true of a summative assessment or an end-of-the year state standardized test.

If this is true, then why do so many students perform poorly on standardized tests?

Common sense and operational factors are the primary factors impeding academic performance in many of America’s Title 1 elementary schools. Listed below are the major reasons that chronically and invariably poor academics continue to affect the mass of Title 1 elementary schools each year.

  1. The Title 1 principal subscribes to ideological mandated curriculum that has not been effective in the past and frankly, has little to do with the existential reality at their school. Hence, their classroom teachers are tasked with presenting curriculum incompatibly aligned with the end assessments or heightened outcomes

  2. The Title 1 principal does not realize that all grade level curriculum assumes children of poverty do not possess academic literacy and numeracy gaps. Unfortunately, children of poverty possess correctable academic gaps. If these academic gaps are not rectified, children of poverty are pressed in daily learning situations of seemingly unconnected concepts. These academic gaps must be fixed, or the level of academic performance is depressed before the race begins in August.

  3. The classroom teacher does not review the weekly, unit or standardized assessment to fully comprehend the end goal of their instruction. Thus, students are not taught the expected rigor, state standards and challenging content of the upcoming assessment. This phenomenon is often called ‘test validity’ since the teacher did not align the instruction and daily practice to the final assessment expectations. In effect, the classroom teacher did not know the length of race they were training for and preparing their students to compete.

  4. The classroom is inefficiently run each school day from a variety of possible factors. But, two of the most important are ineffective and inequitable classroom management and inefficient classroom routines. These two factors cost classroom learning precious instructional minutes that cumulatively result in the loss of days and weeks of learning despite all students in attendance.

These four items generally sum up the constant failure for so many impoverished students in the traditional and charter schools in this country. However, if a Title 1 elementary principal knows how to sidestep tenet 1 and understands how to handle tenet 2 with stop-gap and bridge resources, then it is only tenets 3 and 4 that primarily affect student outcomes. The principal is the key player in heightening student outcomes, because they determine the campus priorities and values, and they also hire like-minded teachers; consequently, a competent principal via supporting classroom teachers, as needed, can also handle tenet 4.

Now, only tenet 3 remains, and the classroom teacher is the undisputed difference maker in this area. Of course, an administrator can collect weekly or unit assessment results, but those results like standardized test outcomes at the end of the school year are an autopsy analysis. Thus, a common sense rule is needed to instructionally and successfully guide lesson development and design to ensure student performance. This general rule needs to be fundamentally basic so that any entry-level teacher can readily understand it. Therefore, after the classroom teacher reviews the content of upcoming weekly, unit or prior standardized assessments – the end goal, the teacher must incorporate the following empirical axiom of student learning while planning daily lessons.

Yes. It is that simple. The creative lesson design to achieve high levels of daily learning engagement and student success is all that remains; however, that pedagogical task of core lesson design, spiral review and spaced repetition is one of the most rewarding elements of teaching children.