Filling in the potholes

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How do they reach the age of twelve without learning that sentences start with a capital letter? Why can’t they spell the name of their own state? What makes six times eight, or even six times five, so hard? When did they miss the math bus? Who taught them — or did not teach them — to add fractions?

These are a few of the mysteries that middle school teachers encounter on a regular basis.

Part of the art of teaching becomes filling in the potholes. What critical material did Jasmine or Jeremy miss? Teachers try to patch the missing pieces together all the while chugging forward with the curriculum for their grade. At this point, I can’t even slow down since outside “experts” have determined exactly what material I need to teach, when it needs to be taught, and when I need to give the assessment created to go with the material.

It’s a daunting task. Every kid has an individual set of potholes.

Eduhonesty: Teachers can’t remediate without knowing where remediation is needed. A common solution offered by administration consists of tests, tests and more tests. But often those tests are pitched somewhere near the putative grade level of the students being evaluated. Testing at that level provides little useful information. I need to know where third or fourth grade went wrong. I don’t need to be told that my student does not know the middle school curriculum.

I’ve got news for some particularly clueless administrators: I figured out how far behind that kid was by the time we had finished our third or fourth quick write. I had the same information in math after I gave my informal placement quiz on the first day of the year. I didn’t need to waste days in testing. A standardized test often provides me with less information than I can get by sitting down with a student for an hour or two after school, especially when the test does not match or even approximate the academic level of the student.