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When Achievement Push Comes to Shove

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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

We have some of the top schools in the country in Arlington County. Is there some point with our children at which we could back off and not continue to push for rising achievement, an official goal of the county schools? Is there a way we can say, good enough is good enough?

My oldest son is in middle school. He is a talented but not gifted math student. Midway through this past school year, it was clear that he was not ready for algebraic thinking, and his seventh-grade math teacher compassionately helped us help him decide to move back to a more appropriate math level. Because I teach human development, I was able to help him understand that this wasn't about being dumb, but a developmental marker he had not yet hit. He moved back to repeat the math class he took last year.

Now I have a boy who is not enthusiastic about math. He doesn't believe he is good at it and doesn't think math is fun, all because we want rising achievement for all students.

This wasn't a case of parents pushing their son. We talked to teachers all along the way. We were in no rush to move him forward. In fact, although we want him stimulated at appropriate levels, we don't need him to be doing homework all night. We need him to feel confident and competent. We need him to feel balanced. We want him to do well and we believe in effort, but we want him to not feel lost or deficient.

This need to ensure that we raise achievement for all students is outrageous in a county such as Arlington. We need to ensure that all students are stimulated and excited about learning, but at some point, enough is enough.

Kate McCauley

Arlington County


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