Does increasing the required volume of knowledge increase student achievement?
Implementation of the Common Core State Standards is believed by many to raise the academic bar for students. Some may even see it as the source of all necessary improvement in schools. So, will simply increasing the volume of information required to be learned actually increase student success?
The issue at hand is that merely increasing the volume of material to be learned is not beneficial to all students. It is rather like increasing the production quota while withholding the raw materials necessary to create the final product. Academically excellent students will likely rise to the challenge and thrive on the opportunity to learn more. However, struggling students may feel overwhelmed and disengage completely. Is this a risk educators really want to take in an era where all students are required to learn?
What may be more meaningful is to retain a manageable volume of information and increase the expectations for mastery. This can be done simply by changing the grading scale and related expectations in a class; the volume of information remains the same but the requirements for demonstrating mastery increase. Doing this requires teachers to be cognizant of the change and to be honest in their evaluation of students. Student grades may temporarily decrease. So, this also requires administration to support teachers through this difficult phase. Students will tend to rise to the challenge, however. Those who normally do enough to "just get by" will logically have to do more to meet that minimal standard; in most cases they will do that. Excellent students will do what is necessary to maintain their level of excellence. Providing enrichment activities will remain as the best students will need opportunities to explore greater depth and breadth of knowledge. Struggling students will still struggle and will require additional assistance. Nonetheless, the likelihood of the struggling student completely disengaging is mitigated. In this model, education becomes a joint process between teacher and student with both communicating and striving for the student's success. Indeed, the teacher must overtly declare this and follow through with the actions that make the relationship reality. From another vantage point, holding the knowledge volume constant not only allows teachers to take the time necessary to see that students are learning the material, but it also requires that of teachers. By holding constant the volume of content, though, the opportunities of success are vastly improved.
Perhaps the key lies not in expecting higher volumes of knowledge to be learned but rather in expecting greater mastery of a more manageable body of knowledge. Excellent students will strive for greater heights if given the opportunity. Average students will reach up to remain average. Struggling students will need additional assistance, but they are far more likely to remain engaged rather than abandoning hope. Education will be a joint effort between teacher and student with both working together to ensure success.