Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:
Academic growth is scaffolded: mastery of prior skills is necessary to succeed in more advanced skills.
This becomes especially clear when teaching math to high school students. We show our students how the Pythagorean Theorem (content they likely first encountered in middle school) is related to more advanced math content they’ll encounter throughout high school: the distance formula, the equation for the circle, the Pythagorean Identity in Trigonometry, the modulus in the imaginary plane, etc. Basic skills build up to advanced skills, and they are all related, and a deep, conceptual understanding of early skills is essential for success on later ones.
When those relationships are not made clear—or understanding is lacking at any level—the concepts remain disconnected, and mastery of the more advanced skills becomes limited.
The Importance of Rigor
Research shows that one of the most important factors in driving academic mastery is the expectations provided by teachers—and the quality of instruction that results from those expectations.
Teachers who agree that their students can meet the bar set by grade-level standards tended to offer stronger assignments and instruction, while teachers who hold the lowest expectations tended to offer lower-quality assignments in their classrooms.
Those choices have consequences: in classrooms in the top quartile for teacher expectations, students achieved five more months of growth than students in classrooms in the bottom quartile for teacher expectations.
As a result, then, it’s not surprising that grades aren’t always a very good indicator of whether students have actually mastered grade-level academic skills. While higher grades do correspond to a greater chance that students can do grade-level work, that chance is not especially great, even for students who bring home As and Bs. On the whole, students who earn Bs on their math and ELA coursework have a less than 35 percent chance of having met their state assessment’s grade-level bar. Even an A is far from a guarantee: 29 percent of A students do not meet their state assessment’s grade-level bar.
In a system where many students pass from year to year underprepared for what comes next, teachers often find themselves teaching students who truly aren’t yet working at grade level. They feel forced to choose between assigning grade-level work that’s beyond their students’ current skill set or assigning work that matches those skills—but is below grade level. By providing low-level work, they are then reinforcing the cycle, and students continue to move forward unprepared for higher-level academic rigor.
Why Does This Matter Now?
As we emerge from a year of hybrid and remote learning, we remain focused on ensuring that students maintain academic progress. It’s important to ensure that the work students are engaged in is rigorous enough, that As and Bs earned are truly reflective of essential, grade-level skill mastery, and that we show students that we maintain the highest expectations for their academic success.
We’re happy to share other key tips and resources. Feel free to give us a call at 773-348-8914 or get in touch by filling out our contact form.
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO