So our district, like many others faced with the call for teacher accountability, has moved to a model where 50% of our yearly evaluations are based on student test scores. Yes, that's even for early childhood *sigh*. I think almost everyone in education has a soapbox (or at least anyone who still has passion for the profession)-mine is those GT kiddos. My biggest fear is that teachers, fearful of losing their jobs, will spend all their time trying to get those who are struggling up in scores and those who probably can already pass the test will sit on the sidelines.
I already see 2 things happening. One is that some teachers don't want the GT kids. If a child enters 4th Grade with 7th Grade skills, it's hard to show growth on a common assessment, especially one standardized for 4th Grade skills. They may be growing, but the measure has a ceiling, so that growth just doesn't show. We are a society that caters to mediocrity. The other is that lessons are planned for the middle/low students. So even if they aren't officially GT, these advanced kids have to sit through lessons on sight words when they can already read Horrible Harry books!
I often hear critics say that teachers complain a lot and don't give solutions. So I am going to make some suggestions:
1) Don't forget those high kiddos! No matter what level they are on, they can always improve their skills. I talk to teachers who do small group instruction (a must at the elementary level), however, they meet with their high group, maybe once per week, their low groups get individualized instruction every single day. A Kinder student who can already read sentences can benefit from lessons in fluency and comprehension. You could even do a literature circle (I call it "Book Club" :) or read a chapter to the group from a chapter book and have them do a separate activity-maybe related to vocabulary. They have the ability to grow as much as the other groups-but we have to help them get there! That's our job.
2) I've been doing a lot of reading on Blended Learning or Flipping the Classroom-using all the technology tools many schools have to differentiate. Recording lessons yourself (it is summer, I'm going to do some of this while I have the time) or using already recorded lessons (between YouTube, TeacherTube, BrainPop, Discovery Education, Khan Academy--there are many out there) to differentiate your lessons. If my whole group lesson is about counting to 10, for example, and I know that Johnny can already compose and decompose numbers to 10, then I can set him up on a computer or give him homework to watch videos of something more at his level. Maybe introduce a concept not in our standards or work from something he's interested in.
3) Peer tutoring is NOT differentiation! I hear this in meetings and workshops all the time and it just eats my lunch! There is nothing inherently wrong with peer tutoring. I think it could even be an effective tool, especially if you are talking about a before/after school activity. But asking the student who finishes their work first, to go around and help those who are not yet finished is not forwarding the instruction of that advanced student. Now, I've heard the arguments-when you teach something you learn it better. My point is that these kids don't need to learn what they already know better, they need to learn something new! I could teach a colleague how to use powerpoint, it doesn't make me a better powerpoint user. I would much rather be learning a new program I could implement.
Just imagine going to school every day, stepping off that bus ready to learn. A great curiosity, many questions--only to be relegated to whole group instruction that you already know how to do, small group instruction where you are told to "go read a book". And independent work that really isn't challenging, you get it done in 2 minutes, then are told you have to go "help your friends". What new thing did you learn that day? If this happened day after day, would you really be growing? But it is important to differentiate for those kiddos-even if they can already pass the test used for our evaluation!