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Driving excellence and equity through the "AC" educational model is key for all students to achieve their potential.

Redesigning the educational model after COVID

Driving excellence and equity through the "AC" model is key for all students to achieve their potential 

By Michael T. Conner, Ed.D., Riverside Insights May 13th, 2024

Key points:

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every tier of the education ecosystem. With stress, anxiety, teacher retention rates, and curtailing the loss of learning gains, the ecosystem finds itself addressing compounding factors that are multi-dimensional. As we continue to contend with the realities of the DC-Stage of Education (During COVID-19), we have an opportunity to reauthor the operating model in this new paradigm–the AC-Stage of Education (After COVID-19).

When taking into consideration the implications of education in the AC-Stage, much of the discussion has focused on innovation, excellence, and equity. Unfortunately, “equity” in the educational ecosystem has often carried an insidious misnomer–it only addresses the needs of select groups. This underscores the tone of addressing black or brown students and those whose first language is not English. Instead, equity should be defined as ensuring ALL students are moving forward with a pathology that dismantles systems disparities while providing opportunity and access to achieve their full potential. 

As we unwrap our instructional systems with a lens focused on transformation, there needs to be a triangulation of equity, access, and inclusion to achieve excellence. We must think strategically and intentionally about interrogating legacy barriers that inhibit excellence. The collective ecosystem must ask ourselves this essential question with vigor: “How are we deconstructing the status quo to reconstruct a model that underscores pedagogical practices of inclusion to achieve the vision of ALL?”

When we unpack that question in totality, it will require all stakeholders and classroom practitioners to examine the elements embedded within our instructional systems. Our instructional and assessment methods must eradicate the real and perceived barriers of disparities that prevent us from reaching every student. Taking this vision into action will create learning environments where every student, regardless of race, language, and economic status, will move the education landscape toward the goal of accelerating ALL.

Assessing achievement is not enough 

As we seek to improve equity and excellence in our learning environments, one noted problem of practice is our overreliance on achievement testing to guide instruction. When interrogated with depth and breadth, achievement assessments are inequitable by structure and design. Why? Achievement percentiles only examine students at a mastery level instead of the true ability of students. Yet, students have been denied opportunities because of assessment scores and the success of teachers and districts is often judged by these outcomes (e.g., The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001).

The AC-Stage of Education calls for stakeholders to measure our students’ abilities–problem-solving, logical reasoning, and other innate qualities that are needed to be successful in the global economy. This means the education sector must adamantly oppose oppressive practices of clustering students homogeneously by achievement percentiles. To make education equitable where excellence and inclusivity are promoted, we must prioritize students’ abilities within the transformation process. 

Another way forward

Traditional assessment perpetuates exclusive practices of norming students by established percentile ranges. Those percentiles represent whether students mastered specific standards within a defined content area. Students who do not meet proficiency within those standards are often tiered, which historically has left them behind or they will miss opportunities for rigor, progress, and relevance.

However, there is another methodology in the AC-Stage to achieve the inclusive assessment practice for ALL. For example, a school can offer an achievement assessment coupled with an ability assessment. This approach will provide a holistic view of students, inform pedagogical decisions, and use students’ potential and strengths to increase academic outcomes. 

Viewing students from a holistic perspective will elicit instructional discussions more than the mastery of standards. It will provide detailed descriptions of students’ core abilities to elevate their strengths. Teachers and administrators can adjust their focus on authentic student growth as opposed to meeting arbitrary achievement indicators that create inequities and discriminatory instructional decisions–this means beyond race or language proficiency. This approach enables us to start to consider students more than just percentiles, but as individuals who have innate abilities to reach their full potential.

Culture change is needed

This approach in the AC-Stage of Education represents a significant cultural shift at all levels in the ecosystem–including governance. At the onset, we must redefine our collective mindsets to foster a culture that values excellence and equity. 

When we think of our testing cultures, it is apparent that a level of strategic radicalization to close access gaps must be underpinned in the education model. All students deserve the opportunity to perform at high levels, yet many are being hindered by achievement discussions. If we look at students with the notion of ability, the education sector would ensure greater opportunities and access for ALL. Considering education in AC-Stage, the testing culture and assessment model must be reimagined to analyze data that enable educators to address students holistically. This is the only way we can ensure that our practices are driving greater equity, inclusion, and excellence in the educational system for Generation Z and Generation Alpha. 

About the Author:

Michael T. Conner, Ed.D., is the founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group, Corp., former Superintendent of Schools, Creator/Architect of the Disruptive Effect Model, author of Intentional, Bold, and Unapologetic: A Guide to Transforming Schools in the AC-Stage of Education, and consultant for Riverside Insights.

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