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What Happens When We Lower The Bar

A few years ago I was listening to Kylene Beers speak about student achievement. One point that really stuck with me was around the role we play simply with our expectations. Today as I was talking to my class her words around students rising to the bar we set came back into my mind.

This summer this little narrative that I loathe popped up. Learning Loss became this buzz word. We saw educational companies and publishers lining up with ways to address it and the snake oil salesmen of the education world claiming how they had the answer to this "Learning Loss". As the year started off I refused to acknowledge "Learning Loss" as anything more than the sales gimmick it was created to be. Preying on those who felt uneasy about how students did during this uncharted journey back and forth between online and in-person learning. See, we really have not had a lot of time to assess if learning was actually lost. A lot of folks assume it was but there isn't a ton of data beyond opinion (that isn't data).

See, in Alberta, in the first year of the pandemic our government established that due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic students would not be held accountable for any learning after we shift to online, also they couldn't fail. The bar was lowered. Students mostly stopped showing up. With the bar so low that even attendance and work was not required our students happily grabbed it. Last year was much of the same . Interruptions to the end of the year lead to the bar again being lowered. Students happily met these reduced expectations.

Decision makers lowered the bar, students happily obliged and became accustomed to this lowered expectation. Now we are seemingly obsessed with this imagined learning loss when really students just expect that low bar to continue to be offered.

Last week I told my students I expect their best. They are excellence and we need to remind people that when the bar is high they will rise to it because we are meant to be great. They doubt me.

Students did not lose out of learning. The opportunities were there. If anything students lost the faith that we, the adults, thought they could succeed even when the challenge was great. If anything they lost the sense that the adults would be there to support them when things got tough. Because largely many weren't.

We chose the easier roads. We chose to not explore new ways to assess and measure the beautiful learning that was happening. We chose to isolate ourselves and not explore new ways to teach. We chose not to break the systems of inequity down and imagine better.

We chose, and now, instead of owning our mistakes, our shortcomings, our lowering of the bar, we are labelling the kids as learning lost.

You can do better. Maybe it is time we raise the bar for ourselves.

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