When Good Enough is not Good Enough
Ok, so somebody posts a student test paper online where a teacher has marked that a student's correct subtraction is not acceptable and everybody loses their minds. ‘What is American education coming to,’ some teachers, some non-teachers, all wail in six-part harmony. But from my point of view, and in the view of many others, what this teacher exemplifies is the critical teaching skill of intentionality and he or she was absolutely right to flag this student response as incorrect.
Being intentional simply means that the teacher must be clear and precise about what the learning is and whether or not the student has, ultimately, learned that specific knowledge or skill. Intentional use of formative assessment ought to measure how close or how far a student is from the learning they are supposed to acquire. While there are certainly better or worse ways of holding kids accountable, that we ought to be assuring that students are growing in their learning seems to be without argument.
In this case the intentional learning selected by the teacher, the way in which the kids were going to be smarter when they leave the classroom than when they walked in, is that they will have learned the ability to estimate (one assumes, of course, that they already know how to subtract). Thus, accepting the student’s ability to subtract as ‘good enough’ is in fact an example of the kind of teaching that causes students to stagnate. The function of intentionality, carefulness and precision in teaching is to assure students learn, grow and progress.
So kudos to this teacher for having the courage of his or her intentions by trying to make sure that student is continuing to progress and shame on those teachers and parents and others who think that when it comes to student learning good enough is ever good enough.