By Dr. Elizabeth Primas (Program Manager, NNPA/ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
I am a former teacher. I taught for 25 years in the public school system and have held various titles in the field of education throughout my 40-year career. I have always had a passion for education. My family and I joke that I have been teaching since the first day of kindergarten. My older sister also wanted to be a teacher. So, we would spend our evenings “playing school” with our many siblings and neighbors. Because of our productive “pretend play” I began school already reading and writing. I remember printing the alphabet with pride. By the time I reached third grade I was reading everything I could get my hands on and helping my classmates read as well. In fact, the only time I was reprimanded was when I tried to help a classmate pronounce names during her social studies report on current events.
I shared that time during my childhood, because it is important for educators to understand that children begin school on various levels. Children develop and retain information differently. Some students begin school ahead of the pack. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure all children, irrespective of their initial academic level continue to make progress.
Unfortunately, most students are not progressing at an appropriate pace. The reauthorized, national education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), grants states the freedom to develop their own academic standards and measures of accountability so long as those standards prepare students for college and career readiness. State academic standards can include a wide range of subject areas; in contrast to the previous emphasis on reading and mathematics. To support the academic achievement of students with varied academic ability, background, and socioeconomic status, it is vital that educators refrain from the one-size-fits-all model of instruction promoted during No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
To improve academic achievement, we must reflect on our stated mission: to educate all children. Not every child is going to be a mathematician. Not every child is going to be a scientist or doctor. However, every child is born with specific gifts and talents. It is up to us, as parents and educators, to help each child develop those specific talents. In a family of six children, each of my siblings had a different area of interest. One became a medical doctor, another a mathematician, still another, an engineer; there are two former teachers, and a law enforcement officer. We were all expected to excel in our respective fields, and we did.
Success comes in many forms. A successful student is allowed to pursue his/her natural talents and encouraged to learn the skills needed to be a productive citizen. Had my siblings and I been limited to reading and mathematics, we probably wouldn’t have been as successful; not in our careers or personal lives. To improve academic achievement, let’s first equip teachers with the skills to recognize the natural talents that support and encourage academic achievement. School systems must realize that tests only measure a finite set of skills and that skills do exist outside of those measured. Academic achievement is improved when we recognize the differences in children and embrace them rather than trying to put every child in the same, square box. Academic achievement is improved when parents take the initiative to advocate for their child’s needs from the womb all the way through college graduation and the start of their careers.
Who is responsible for improving academic achievement? All of us. Get engaged, go to the meetings, participate in the professional development, take part in the free webinars, read the articles on education in your local newspapers, and be a voice in your child’s education.
If you are looking for tips on how to get involved, or where to go to attend meetings, visit . www.nnpa.org/essa.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @elizabethprimas.