A correlation between the Achievement Gap and Adverse Childhood Experiences

What exactly is an achievement gap?

The term “achievement gap” refers to disparities in the academic achievement of specific groups of students (Coleman et al., 1966). The achievement gap now measures four years: by the end of high school, African American and Latino students have skills in literacy (reading) and numeracy (mathematics) that are virtually identical to those of White students at the end of middle school (Lyman & Villani, 2004; Scherer, 2002-2003).

 What about the Achievement Gap once school years are over?

The achievement gap exists during school years, but when the school years are over the achievement gap becomes an opportunity gap. In other words, students become adults. In many cases, adults who will not be able to pay for everyday essentials such as food, purchase a home, have access to health, vision, or dental insurance.  The achievement gap can very well impact one’s life time earnings. Lower life time earnings can have a direct impact on where people live and what kids are exposed to as they grow up. Lower life time earnings can very well impact one’s credit score and put up barriers that prevent home ownership and sometimes prevent the opportunity to rent. Consequently, most are forced to live in low credit score neighborhoods. Low credit score neighborhoods can breed a host of negative exposures such as violence and childhood stressors. Low score neighborhoods are inundated with liquor stores, cigarette ads, and corner stores that sell nothing but unhealthy processed food. All of these factors add to negative childhood experiences.

Definition of Adverse Childhood Experiences/Trauma 

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions, in which: The individual experiences (subjectively) an existential threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity, such that the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed. (Saakvitne, 1995). Reactions to Traumatic Stress are as follow:  (Cormier, 2012 at NABSE Conference)

  • Re-experiencing symptoms: intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, re-living, dissociating, high reactivity to reminders
  • Arousal symptoms: Hypervigilance, hyperarousal (heightened emotional experiencing and slow return to baseline), feeling edgy, difficulty falling asleep, midnight or early morning awakenings, heightened irritability and aggression (Cormier, 2012 NABSE)
  • Avoiding symptoms: refusal to talk about event, avoiding traumatic reminders, social withdrawal, detachment, numbing (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition).
  • The person experiencing traumatic stress never gets a break from it. They feel as though they are always “on.”
  • The combination of always being on, of re-experiencing and of trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid re-experiencing contribute to the person’s feeling as though they are coming apart or going crazy(Cormier, 2012 NABSE Conference).
  • To others, the person’s inability to control their emotions, withdrawal from normal social interchange, and active distrust of everything, make that person very difficult to engage. Thus, the very people who could become a source of support become a source of antagonism (Cormier, 2012 NABSE conference Nashville, Tennessee)
  • This combination of the inability to regulate emotions, the inability to trust others and the inability to attend to the present moment is quite destructive of the kind of executive and integrative functioning necessary for academic success.

When students come up in high violence areas they are more than not exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Adverse Childhood experiences such as drugs, child abuse, sexual abuse, incarceration of love ones, drug use by caretakers, and gun violence. When a child is habitually exposed to these kind of stressors, they can become traumatized prior to entering kindergarten. This traumatization has a colossal impact on the child’s behavior and the ability to learn.  Some researchers would say the child is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The same PTSD soldiers experience due to combat from serving in the military during wartime.  Researchers admit the PTSD suffered by students never turns off. As a result, all adults such as the school system should be in the know and have established a plan that effectively addresses the trauma or unwanted behavior.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Presented by Matthew A. Munich, PhD, LCSW Trauma Clinician Family Service of Rhode Island, 2012 at NABSE Conference Nashville, Tennessee)

  • A study commissioned by Kaiser Permanente involving 17,000 patients surveyed by their primary care physician to make a connection between health outcomes and “Adverse Child Events” (A.C.E.). 12,000 patients responded. These were people who were predominately middle to upper middle class Caucasian. 74% had attended college, with an average age of 57.
  • Responders were given 1 point for every childhood adverse experience: physical, emotional or sexual abuse, absent or addicted caregiver, parental divorce, domestic violence, mentally ill caregiver.


  • Score of 4 or higher: twice as likely to smoke, seven times as likely to become alcoholics, six times as likely to have had sex before 15.
  • 4 or higher: One is twice as likely to have cancer, twice as likely to have heart disease, and four times as likely to suffer from emphysema or chronic bronchitis. 12 times as likely to have attempted suicide than those with an ACE score of 0.
  • Men with an ACE score of 6 or higher were 46 times as likely to have injected drugs than men who had no history of ACEs (acestudy.org; Tough, 2011).

Nadine Burke & The ACE Study

  • Bayview Health Clinic, a San Francisco public health clinic, Nadine Burke administers a modified version of the ACE study questionnaire to her patients at every yearly exam. This time, the median age was 7, rather than 57.  700 patients were surveyed.
  • 69% had an ACE score of 1.  12% have an ace of 4 or higher.
  • In addition to health outcomes being more negative already for this population, Burke saw a correlation between children’s ACE score and school performance.
  • The conclusion being drawn from this is that the glucocorticoids that flood the young brain as a result of adverse childhood events adversely affect its normal development. These findings mirror studies from the late 60s and early 70s  led to the great literacy movement, with government programs like Head Start.  (Tough, 2011)

As the author of this article, my purpose is to provide information that is beneficial for teachers, districts, families and most of all the information is helpful for improving students’ quality of life both academically and socially.  It is essential for all educators to understand their students’ life experiences. By doing so, immensely improves the opportunity for students to be successful.

Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future


This is a fascinating article by one of my all time favorites, Margaret Wheatley.

As we grapple with social and educational issues that plague our school systems and country,  I find it extremely necessary to read this article. This article continues to make the case 15 years later. We must turn to one another. We cannot do the necessary things in isolation.  We must challenge our mental models (Senge, 1993) and continue to enhance our thoughts and actions through Personal Mastery (Senge, 1993).  Read this article over and over. More importantly, I hope this read motives action steps for change that impacts social justice.


Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future San Francisco: Berrett-Koshler Publishers, Inc., 2002

“Willing to Be Disturbed”

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.

We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.

But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.

It is very difficult to give up our certainties—our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. Curiosity is what we need. We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we don need to be curious about what someone else believes. We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

We live in a dense and tangled global system. Because we live in different parts of this complexity, and because no two people are physically identical, we each experience life differently. It’s impossible for any two people to ever see things exactly the same. You can test this out for yourself. Take

any event that you’ve shared with others (a speech, a movie, a current event, a major problem) and ask your colleagues and friends to describe their interpretation of that event. I think you’ll be amazed at how many different explanations you’ll hear. Once you get a sense of diversity, try asking even more colleagues. You’ll end up with a rich tapestry of interpretations that are much more interesting than any single one.

To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone. If our solutions don’t work as well as we want them to, if our explanations of why something happened don’t feel sufficient, it’s time to begin asking others about what they see and think. When so many interpretations are available, I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn’t easy – I’m accustomed to sitting there nodding my head to those saying things I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.

I hope you’ll begin a conversation, listening for what’s new. Listen as best you can for what’s different, for what surprises you. See if this practice helps you learn something new. Notice whether you develop a better relationship with the person you’re talking with. If you try this with several people, you might find yourself laughing in delight as you realize how many unique ways there are to be human.

We have the opportunity many times a day, everyday, to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain. But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer. When we listen with less judgment, we

always develop better relationships with each other. It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do curiosity and good listening bring us back together.

Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we’re creative.

As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don’t believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone, I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what’s going on. I want to sit down with you and talk about all the frightening and hopeful things I observe, and listen to what frightens you and gives you hope. I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts.

Hands down, Numeric Literacy is the Global Language

Algebra: Gateway to College Success Starts in Middle School

Nearly every school district across the United States has a phrase in its school’s vision statement or related to preparation of students to compete on the Global Stage or to prepare for a Global Society.  When considering mathematics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2015 and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, results indicate American students are lagging behind other industrial countries’ students.  American students will have to compete with these same students in the future. When considering STEM jobs, much of the competition will take place on computer keyboards.  Many companies compete  across the globe and the employee is at home, in their office, or in some facility that has  wireless connection. To truly compete on a global stage, we have to do a significantly better job of educating our youth with numeric literacy.   “Numeracy is defined as the ability to access, use and interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of various situations in adult years. To be numerate is to confidently and effectively use mathematics to meet the everyday demands of life.” (Bendigo Kangan Institute, 2017).

Middle school and high school are absolutely necessary times for early postsecondary planning, and many educational institutions and the U.S. Department of Education suggest that students begin considering and planning for college as early as sixth grade (National Association for College Admission Counseling, 1999). Early planning gives students the opportunity to take the necessary middle and high school courses to ensure preparedness for postsecondary education, and align their educational benchmarks with their current course taking and educational planning. Schools can play a vital role in guiding early preparation for college or careers through fostering academic preparation and achievement, supporting parent involvement, providing college and career planning essentials, and aiding students through the multiple steps in college and career planning. Early postsecondary planning may not be the case for all students. Too many students are failing to engage in the early planning activities that can be extremely beneficial in getting ready for college. It could be considered too late to start preparing for college in the 11th or 12th grade. By this time, students have missed opportunities to take rigorous courses as well as all the math high schools have to offer.  Rigorous mathematics provide students with leverage to meet the challenges of college.

Middle school students who take rigorous courses such as Algebra I can obtain information about college opportunities and are likely to apply to a four-year university (Atanda, 1999; National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 2001). This is especially true among minority and first-generation college students.  Those who take higher-level math courses are more likely to attend college (Horn & Nuñez, 2000). As it relates to equity and Civil Rights, Kaupt (1998) suggests all should have the right to algebra. Having taken algebra by 8th grade allow students to take high school course sequences including calculus by senior year. Therefore, it is imperative students take algebra by 8th grade (Kaput, 1998).

Algebra is considered the gateway to taking advanced mathematics offered by high schools, which leads to knowledge and skills needed to meet Geometry, Algebra II, and Calculus rigor (Gaertner, Kim, DesJardins, & McClarity, 2013). The completion of these higher math courses aid students for success in college, technically skilled jobs, as well as more lifetime career earnings. Math Pathways and Pitfalls (2013) suggest students who complete challenging math courses double their chances of graduating from college compared to students who do not. “Failure in algebra is the #1 trigger of dropouts in high school” (Helfand, 2007).

The Importance of Algebra II

“The mathematics courses students take in high school affect their academic achievement and their admission to competitive postsecondary schools and professional programs” (Schiller & Muller, 2003, p. 300). Adelman (2006) states, when students complete high-level mathematic courses such as Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Trigonometry, and Calculus these are the most significant predictors of achieving in postsecondary systems.

DesJardins, Gaertner, Kim, and McClarity (2013), Preparing Students for College & Careers: The Causal Role of Algebra II looked at the impacts of taking Algebra II in high school.

Research findings suggest completing Algebra II is necessary for college outcomes for all post-secondary institutions, but not necessarily for career outcomes. Students who completed Algebra II in high school were more likely to be accepted to college, sustain higher grade point averages, remain in college, and most of all graduate from college. Moreover,  students who did not complete Algebra II do not achieve the same outcomes. Students who did not apply to college after high school, completing Algebra II was not essential to finding a job immediately after high school, earning occupational prestige, earnings, or career advancement (Gaertner, Kim, DesJardins, & McClarty, 2013).              Fong, Huang, and Goel, (2008) state students who complete Algebra II increase their opportunity for not needing remedial courses once enrolled in college. In fact, completing Algebra II was essential for improving college preparedness as it relates to minority students (Evan, Gray, and Olchefske, 2006).

In summary, the data provides evidence regarding Algebra and the importance of algebra beyond the walls of school.  The importance of Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and other advanced math courses are extremely important and significant predictors for college admission and sustainability beyond a student’s freshman year of college.

Advanced Placement Math

High schools throughout the country, now offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in mathematics and science. These courses are known as pre-college readiness subjects. Adelman (2006) urges students to complete at least two years of AP courses in math. High school students who perform well on AP examinations triple their chances of obtaining a four-year college degree as opposed to students who do not pass the AP test (National Science Foundation, 2007). Subsequently, the percentage for completing a four-year degree is even higher for African American students. Many students, especially low-income students, misjudge what essential classes they must enroll to properly prepare themselves for two and four-year colleges. It is severely important for guidance counselors to ensure they are providing all students with valid information regarding the importance of Algebra’s impact on college preparedness.  Rigorous math course completion also improve students’ ACT scores (ACT, 2010; 2012).

Advanced Math Courses and the Minority Student

What is true for the high school population in general is true for African American and Hispanic students whose college graduation rates are more positively impacted than any other group through by having a rigorous curriculum and teachers competent in their subject area (Wimberly & Noeth, 2005). Students who complete Algebra II, double their chances of graduating from a four-year college as opposed to those students do not (Wimberly & Noeth, 2005). Furthermore, failure or less than mediocre achievement in minimum college ready courses such as Algebra is a major problem impacting urban secondary education, which also negatively impacts African Americans, Hispanics, and other students of color.

Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, and Hillen (2011), research findings suggest there are inequities regarding those who take  Algebra in 8th or 9th grade. This is common for minority students, lower income students, and students whose parents have minimum education (Filer & Chang, 2008; Gamoran & Hannigan, 2000; McCoy, 2005; Shakrani, 1996; Walston & McCarroll, 2010). According to research by Stone (1998), these demographic inequities in Algebra have been evident since the early 1990s in large urban school districts. The data disclosed a couple of reason for this imbalance, including under-preparedness and subjective placement factors. Not taking rigorous math courses in high school can have substantial ramifications for a student’s future job earnings and social success. If students do not take advanced math courses in high school, and they plan on going to college, “a student is effectively frozen out of the highly compensated, highly sought after fields of science, technology, engineering, and math known as STEM” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 2).

Some studies revealed when students are selected to take advanced math courses, a host of minority and low-income students are excluded from taking Algebra, even if their test scores are proficient or advanced. Stone’s (1998) research shows that students of upper financial status are more likely to be enrolled in Algebra I and Geometry as opposed to their lower income peers who scored proficient or advanced with their test scores (Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, & Hillen, 2011; Walston & McCaroll, 2010). Horn and Bobbitt (2000) disclosed “fewer first-generation college students are taking eighth grade Algebra compared to students with parents who were college graduates” (Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, & Hillen, 2011, p. 461).

California considers taking Algebra a civil right for students. To ensure students are not being overlooked or misplaced due to origin or social economic status, the state of California educators may face substantial legal liability for misplacement of students in math courses. This is due to California based universities require college eligible math courses such as Advanced Placement Statistics or Calculus. “Purposeful placement decisions that disproportionately impact minority students violate state and federal laws” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 4).

The opportunity to take these advanced math courses can only be achieved if students complete algebra by 8th grade and enters high school enrolled Geometry. Students not having the opportunity to complete advanced math courses can negatively impact college success and long-term opportunities forever (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013). The most alarming concerns California has with misplacing students in advanced math courses due to social economic status (SES) or race occurs when a student has adequately “completed Algebra I in middle school and is forced to repeat Algebra I in 9th grade. When this happens, the student is immediately made less competitive for college admission” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 4). The research study conducted by the state of California for nine districts between San Mateo and Santa Clara counties research findings revealed 65% of students who completed Algebra 1 in 8th grade were mandated to take the same Algebra 1 course again in the ninth grade. The same study revealed more than 42% of students mandated to take Algebra I again in 9th grade earned a B- grade or higher while in 8th grade. The students were more often than not minority and low-income students (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013). In order for United States of America to remain an elite figure on the global platform, it must be a priority to ensure a larger percentage of our secondary students enroll in college and complete a degree in an adequate time period.

National Assessment of Educational Progress states the “overwhelming number of low-achieving students in Algebra are black and Hispanic and attend big urban high-poverty schools where they are more likely to fall through the cracks” (Loveless, 2008, p. 8). More often than not, low-income and minority students tend to be the least likely to engage in early and timely educational planning. Low-income communities may lack educational planning information (Freeman, 1999). Schools serving low-income districts have an urgent role and moral imperative to prepare students and help them plan for the future and narrow the opportunity gap.

STEM and Future Careers

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) require a strong foundation in math. Society moved from an agricultural society to an industrial society and people moving to the city from the countryside for better paying industry jobs realized they needed postsecondary training for the purpose of obtaining the newly created industry jobs.  Today, we are living in the information age.  An era which has created a host of STEM careers and require a healthy dose of numeric literacy. “We are all required to be numerate to maximize our potential and to make a positive contribution to society. In our exceedingly technical world, numeracy skills, in particular the ability to interpret data, are becoming increasingly more significant and are hugely sought after by employers. An absence of mathematical confidence and poor numeracy skills are obstructions to employment as numeracy tests are increasingly becoming a routine part of the recruitment process” (Bendigo Kangan Institute, 2017).  Math is the most important course in every country, Hands down.


ACT, Inc. (2010). Mind the gaps: How college readiness narrows achievement gaps in college success. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/ pdf/MindTheGaps.pdf

ACT, Inc. (2010). The condition of college and career readiness. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.www.libproxy.wvu.edu/ehost/

ACT, Inc. (2012). Creating your explore and plan: Road map to student success. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/education/benchmarks.html

Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the tool box: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/Toolbox/index.html

Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http:/www.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/toolboxrevisit/index.html

Atanda, R. (1999). Do gatekeeper courses expand education options? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs99/1999303.pdf

Bendigo Kangan Institute (2017). The importance of literacy and numeric skills. Retrieved November 28, 2017 from https://www.kangan.edu.au/students/blog/importance-literacy-and-numeracy-skills

Brown, G., Hardimarkos, S., & Rogers, A. (2013). Held back: Addressing misplacement of 9th grade students in Bay Area School math classes. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from http://www.lccr.com/?s=held+back

Evan, A., Gray, T., & Olchesfke, J. (2006). The gateway to student success in mathematics and science. Washington, DC: American Institutes of Research.

Filer, K. L., & Chang, M. (2008). Peer and parent encouragement of early algebra enrollment and mathematics achievement. Middle Grades Research Journal, 3(1), 23–34.

Fong, A. B., Huang, M., & Goel, A. M. (2008). Examining the links between grade 12 mathematics coursework and mathematics remediation in Nevada public colleges and universities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Freeman, K. (1999). The race factor in African Americans’ college choice. Urban Education, 34, 4–25.

Gaertner, M., Kim, J., DesJardins, S., & McClarity, K. (2013). Preparing students for college and careers: The casual role of algebra II. Research in Higher Education, 55(2), 143-165

Gamoran, A., & Hannigan, E. C. (2000). Algebra for everyone? Benefits of college-preparatory mathematics for students with diverse abilities in early secondary school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(3), 241-254.

Helfand, D. (2007, January 26). Formula for failure in L.A. schools. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-medropout30jan30,0,405044,full.story?coll=la-news-learning

Horn, L., & Nuñez, A. (2000). Mapping the road to college: First-generation students’ math track, planning strategies, and context of support. (NCES 2000–153). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Kaput, J. J. (1998). Transforming algebra from an engine of inequity to an engine of mathematical power by “algebraifying” the K–12 curriculum. In The nature and role of algebra in the K–14 curriculum: Proceedings of a national symposium. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/ PDFS/ED441664.pdf

Loveless, T. (2008, September). The misplaced math student: Lost in eighth-grade algebra. Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/ rc/reports/2008/0922_education_loveless/0922_education_loveless.pdf

McCoy, L. P. (2005). Effect of demographic and personal variables on achievement in eighth-grade algebra. Journal of Educational Research, 98(3), 131–135. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27548070

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2011; 2015). The nation’s report card: Science, grade 12 national results. Retrieved from http://nationsreportcard.gov/ science_2009/g12_nat.asp?tab_id=tab2&subtab_id=tab_1#tabscontainer

National Association for College Admission Counseling. (1999). PACT: Parents and counselors together program. Alexandria, VA: Author.

National Commission on the High School Senior Year. (2001). The lost opportunity of the senior year: Finding a better way. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Programme for International Student Assessment. (2015). Results in focus. Retrieved November 28, 2017 from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf

Schiller, K. S., & Muller, C. (2003). Raising the bar and equity? Effects of state high school graduation requirements and accountability policies on students’ mathematics course taking. Educational Evaluation and Policy Studies, 25(3), 299-318. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3699497

Shakrani, S. (1996). Eighth-grade algebra coursetaking and mathematics proficiency (NAEP FACTS Vol. 1, No. 2). Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED396915.pdf

Stein, M., Kaufman, J., Sherman, M., & Hillen, A. (2011). Algebra: A challenge at the crossroads of policy and practice. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 453–492.

Stone, C. (1998). Leveling the playing field: An urban school system examines equity in access to mathematics curriculum. Urban Review, 30, 295–307.

Walston, J., & McCarroll, J. (2010). Eighth-grade algebra: Findings form the eighth grade round of the early childhood longitudinal study, kindergarten class of 1998–99 (NCES-2010–016). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Wimberly, G. L., & Noeth, R. J. (2005). College readiness begins in middle school. ACT policy report. Ames, IA: ACT, Inc.

Executive Functioning Skills, College, and Career Readiness


For the purpose of making the case, it is helpful to open this article by presenting a biological perspective. Sociologist find it important to define Nature (biological) and Nurture (environmental). The Nature versus Nurture perspectives of human development have been an unrelenting debate between natural and social scientists for decades.  Even though there will be comparing and contrasting as it relates to the differing points of view of nature/nurture, the purpose of this article is not to defend either side.  Instead, an attempt to simply describe and explain several dimensions of learning and intelligence will be the focus. Each one of the dimensions will be defined before elaborating on the two dimensions of interest.  The six dimensions are as follows:

  1. Physiological process: Having the ability to acquire information and achieve operates on a biological stage of cells, circuits, and chemical in the brain (Dickman, Standford-Blair, & Rosati-Bojar, 2004).  The brain has infinite ability for processing new and old information.  The human brain and body are the same.  One does not exist without the other.  The brain craves plenty of valuable nutritional care and exposure to social experiences (Dickman & Standford-Blair, 2009).
  2. Social process: As millions of years passed, human’s brain became rich in social experiences and instincts.  The human brain demands attention and belonging to other socialized brains. Social nature allows for memory, language, empathy, sympathy, collaboration, and reasoning. The social component of the brain is expectant, dependent, extended, and oriented to virtue (Dickman, Standford-Blair, & Rosati-Bojar, 2004).
  3. Emotional Process: This part of the brain focuses on attention, judgment, motivation, and reasoning. These are considered changes in the mind and body. Additional changes to be considered are fear, madness, happiness, and enjoyment are all associated with the emotional process (Dickman, Standford-Blair, & Rosati-Bojar, 2004).
  4. Constructive process: the ability to take in new information and use it to your advantage.  The brain embraces patterns for assembling meaning to the incoming information.  The constructed information is habitually and emotionally assessed to see if it is valuable (Dickman, Standford-Blair, & Rosati-Bojar, 2004).
  5. Reflective process: this is a very interesting makeup of the brain.  The brain has the ability to be manipulative, authoritative, collaborative or unifying, as well as promising.  Reflection manipulates information and check choices prior to taking action. Having the ability to be reflective allows the brain to problem solve, socially interact, and make decisions (Dickman & Standford-Blair, 2004).
  6. Dispositional process: the ever amazing brain has the capacity to display its intelligence abilities in a way that is macro, mandatory, and maximizing or minimizing.  The brain is capable of taking on macro patterns of thinking.  Thinking dispositions are biological in nature but advance through social experiences or environmental factors.  Man ability to think, acquire new information, and make new advances is realized to the level to which there is a productive disposition in the driver’s seat (Dickman, Blair, & Bojar, 2004).

The six dimensions described above are all important as it relates to intelligence and learning, nevertheless, I will focus on Physiological and Social nature of learning.  These particular processes of intelligence motivate me to learn more just as the brain intended, always in search of additional knowledge.  The more the brain adsorbs the more the brain is driven to absorb.

There is another part of the hemisphere I am concerned about known as the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is of importance due to the executive functioning of the frontal  lobe which is able to anticipate future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good, bad, better, best, deny inappropriate social actions, as well as, measure similarities and differences.  The frontal lobe impacts critical thinking, problem solving, and complex reasoning (Dickman, Blair, & Bojar, 2004).  Now that I have described the functions of the frontal lobes, I will focus my attention on Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and weak Executive Functioning Skills.

Executive Functioning Skills

First, it is important for me to point out, my wife and I are educated parents of two young men. Educated parents who do not believe in snake oil remedies. Though both of our boys are great young men ages 17 and 21, one of our boys was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  ADHD is a highly genetic, brain-based syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviors.  Research shows that those with ADHD have abnormalities in how the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine work to facilitate communication between neurons and activation of various brain functions. Differences in the communication route related to reward and consequence, a pathway involving dopamine activity (Volkow, et al, 2009) have been found to be particularly problematic in the brains of individuals with ADHD, as have brain networks involved in the engagement and regulation of attention. Disruptions in serotonin levels and activity may also play a role, particularly in affecting the modulation and regulation of the dopamine system.  There are skeptics who say ADHD does not exist. If ADHD does not exist, well I have no idea as to what my son and family have dealt with starting from kindergarten through grade 15th and most of all I guess Dobermans fly. Not only does it exist, its functions are in the frontal lobe of the brain. It is important for me to point out we are educated parents and have a more than average educational status with health care, dental, and vision insurance. I mentioned my status for the purpose of providing clarity. In other words, we have been blessed to provide the very best as parents and provide them with the best supports when needed. When we did not have the answers or concerns, we sought help. Skeptics also say ADD & ADHD are all due to poor parenting or uneducated parents. Well, we are not uneducated and though not perfect I would like to think our parenting skills were/are pretty good.

An exceptionally large portion of school age children suffer from poor executive functioning skills. Executive functions are found in the frontal lobe of the brain.  This is valuable information for all educators to understand. Understanding students’ disorders which may impact students’ academic performance and overall behavior, mandate teachers to know the readiness levels of their students for the purpose of differentiating classwork, homework, and understanding the whole child. Executive Functional Skills are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal.  “It is an umbrella term for the neurologically based skills involving mental control and self-regulation” (Kahn, & Dietzel, 2008, p. 10).

Dr. Gioia (2002), has identified and defined eight executive functioning skills that are essential to everyone, everyday, and every working moment.  Executive Functioning Skills are as follows:

  1. Inhibition—The capability to prohibit one’s own behavior at any giving time, this include avoiding inappropriate actions and thinking. However, there is another side to inhibition known as impulsivity.  If you have poor ability to prevent yourself from action on your impulses you are considered “impulsive” (Gioia, 2002).
  2. Shift—The ability to move at will from situation to another while behaving appropriately to the situation (Gioia, 2002).
  3. Emotional Control—Having the capacity to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings (Gioia, 2002).
  4. Initiation— The ability to initiate a task or and to individually generate thoughts, responses, and problem-solving techniques (Gioia, 2002).
  5. Working Memory—Capacity to retain and recall information in order to follow through on a task (Gioia, 2002).
  6. Planning/Organization—The ability to oversee present and future-oriented task demands (Gioia, 2002).
  7. Organizational of Materials—Having the ability to be orderly on work, play, and storage spaces (Gioia, 2002).
  8. Self-Monitoring–The ability to measure self’s performance and to compare it against some standard of what is needed or expected (Gioia, 2002).

When students suffer from weak executive functioning skills as a result of nature, all responsible for educating the child in a given year, should be aware of the students’ disorder, disabilities, strengths, or weaknesses in order to effectively educate students.  For example, Differentiated Instruction is a research-based framework that puts a huge amount of attention on variance and diversity.  Differentiated Instruction is designed to properly meet students at their readiness level and nurture their learning towards the intended targets. Every hour on the hour, teachers are to be aware there are different groups of mixed-ability learners.  Therefore, superintendents, administrators, teachers and other stakeholders must ensure instructions are consistently adjusted to meet students’ readiness level (Tomlinson, 2000).  This is a non-negotiable.  Nevertheless, this can only happen if strong leadership is presence at the building and district level. To promote consistent and balanced effectiveness of “How we teach,” district and building administrators must allow for professional development, implementation of research-based strategies such as “Differentiated Instruction” and “Response to Intervention practices in each and every classroom, and ongoing collaboration with colleagues. Many times the collaboration opportunities must include teachers modeling proven techniques for one another.  Effective teachers should be knowledgeable of their subject matter and have the ability to use an array of instructional strategies to adhere to students’ culture and learning styles (Stronge, 2007). It is imperative for educators to adhere to students who suffer from disorders associated with the frontal lobe matters such as Attention Deficit Disorder or processing of information.  District administrators should regularly equip building principals with professional development that focuses on current research-based strategies which enables administrators to work with their entire building staff.  If students with Tourette are considered, it is important to know 70% of students who suffer from Tourette have other concerns such as learning disabilities, processing or ADHD.  More than not, boys tend to suffer from ADD as well as suffer from weak executive functioning skills and in many cases girls go unnoticed when there are concerns, because girls tend to be less active (Kahn, & Dietzel, 2008).  I find this to be valuable knowledge and information that should be used by administrators and teachers in order to meet students were they are both academically and socially.

The Social nature of intelligence is the next of six dimensions I care to expound upon.  The majority of learning comes from observation of others.  The brain has a craving to be social with other like brains.  Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.  Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guided for action however, difficult for many students (Bandura, 1977, p. 22). These are only a few examples to describe the importance of social nature of intelligence.

Expectations of College

College can be the best four years of one’s life, however, it is a time when students must adapt to obscure situations filled with new challenges and barriers. This transition separates students from their childhood friends. Students are forced into challenging new task, roles, routines, and relationships. It is time for students to put into practice all of the social skills, norms, and expectations taught by their immediate family, because college life allows for more freedom, independence, and responsibility.

Students who suffer with weak executive functioning skills such as organization, working memory, planning, and self-monitoring will have an extremely difficult time in high school and this is especially true when attending college away from home.  Therefore, it is important for students with such concerns to disclose this information to the university staff. The majority of postsecondary systems take a Response to Intervention approach. However, colleges consider students to be adults and cannot mandate students to take advantage of the interventions provided by colleges. Students who suffer from weak executive skills tend to not reach their full potential if they do not take advantage of such offerings and opportunities by improving their weak EFSs and many consistently fail at task. This failure could also lead to learned helplessness and students may drop out of school. Therefore, superintendents, administrators, teachers, parents, colleges, and the community are all necessary elements for educating all, despite disabilities or disorders.  Cortese (2007, p. 1) states, “If we truly want to close the achievement gap we have to find ways to make sure children get a better-than-average education.”  I totally agree with Cortese.  I also understand this nurturing begins with parents, community, educators, and the CEO of the district.

Make no mistake about it, students who suffer from weak executive functioning skills should continue to work on their skills beyond college. The great news is there are interventions and strategies to help with these concerns.  If students disregard improving their skills, it is possible for students to have problems on their jobs and throughout their careers. Poor planning, lack of organization, and weak emotional control can very well lead to departure from school and jobs.

As parents who have a child who deals with ADHD, I find it important to enlighten others who have children dealing with the same concerns or similar concerns. As the adult it’s important to help your child with improving weak executive functioning skills. Parents must be organized and consistently clear for understanding. Work with experts and counselors who will provide the child and family members with strategies that help the child succeed. Family members must continue to be there as long as needed.  Finally, keep your child’s school and teachers in the know, especially if there have been noticeable changes in your student’s behavior or academic performance.


Bandura, A. (1997). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Calvin, W. H. (1996). How brains think: Evolving intelligence, then and now. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Cooper-Kahn, J., & Dietzel, L. (2008). Late, lost, and unprepared: A parent’s guide to helping children with executive functioning. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Cortese, A. (2007). Get real: Here’s the boost that poor children, their teachers, and their schools really need. Retreived January 5, 2012 form www.aft.org/news

Dickman, M., & Standford-Blair, N. (2009). Mindful leadership: A brain-based framework.Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dickman, M., Standford-Blair, N., & Rosati-Bojar, A. (2004). Leading with the brain in mind: 101  brain-compatible practices for leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Gioia, G. (2002). New perspectives on educating children with adhd: Contributions of the executive functions. Journal of Health Care Law & Policy, (5), 124-163.

Mithen, S. (1996). The prehistory of the mind: The cognitive origins of art, religion, and science.  London: Thames & Hudson.

Parent, A., & Carpenter, M.B. (1995). Human neuroanatomy.  Baltimore, MD: Wilkns & Williams.

Sherer, M. (2001). How and why standards can improve student achievement: A conversation  with Rober Marzano.” Education Leadership (September 2001): 14-18.

Stronge, J. (2007). Qualities of effective teachers. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2000).  Reconcilable differences: Standards-based teaching and differentiation. Educational Leadership, 58(1), 6-11.

The Importance of Non-Academic Factors and College Readiness

Most parents, dream of their children’s graduation from college and successful careers, this is especially true for parents who have not attended any higher education institutions (Conley, 2010). Parents rely on high schools to provide the academic preparation necessary for college success. However, high school graduation does not necessarily equate with college readiness. Many students are not prepared for success in college (ACT, 2012).

It’s well established that GPA, completing rigorous coursework , and high American College Testing (ACT) scores greatly impact students’ college preparedness and students’ ability to meet first year of college demands.  These are known as academic factors. Though academic factors are extremely important, this article is for the purpose of providing insight into Non-Academic Factors that improve college preparedness as well as retention beyond the first year of college.

High School to Post-Secondary

The transition to post-secondary institutions is a huge life change for all students. (Tinto, 1993). In his theoretical model, Tinto (1993) focuses on several predictors of retention and success in college.  Academic and nonacademic preparation during K-12 and adjusting to college life are more likely to predict students who drop out of college during their freshman year. Students drop out for many reasons such as a lack of financial aid, being unprepared for college therefore students cannot meet academic rigor, personal reasons, and inability to adapt to their chosen institution.

Tinto (1993) suggests that “college ready” transition to college is categorized under Academic and Non-Academic adjustments. Academic adjustment enables students to grasp at least minimum standards regarding academic performance. Non-academic indicators include, social integration, becoming actively involved, and building relationships with faculty, psychological and physical stability and individual’s ability to fit with the institution, and a sense of belonging. College can be the best four years of one’s life, however, it is a time when students must adapt to obscure situations filled with new challenges and barriers. This transition separates students from their childhood friends. Students are forced into challenging new task, roles, routines, and relationships. It is time for students to put into practice all of the social skills, norms, and expectations taught by their immediate family, because college life allows for more freedom, independence, and responsibility. As a result of this transition, identity transformation also takes place, which forces students to choose their own actions. Therefore, it is imperative for the universities to implement interventions that are designed to serve the well-being of students, which enhance retention. Non-academic factors are just as important as academic factors. Social integration and college support are imperative components for student’s endurance (Tinto, 1975, 1993). Tinto disclosed that less than 25% of students who dropout from postsecondary schools, are related to academic problems. Majority of students cut ties due to failure with integration. Students become unhappy with college life expectancies and develop feelings of isolation. Tinto’s Longitudinal model of Departure describes an “interactive model of student departure” (p. 112) and as “primarily sociological in character” (p. 113). Tinto (1987) put forward as a basis of argument that students prior to college experiences such as psychological skills, family background, secondary schooling, impact students’ goals and resilience. As a result, students’ goals influence university experiences.

Non-Academic Factors                                                                                              

The author’s areas of focus for this article are Non-Academic factors.  Non-Academic factors are seldom acknowledged when considering whether or not a student is college ready.  Consequently, non-academic factors can be strong predictors as it relates to preparing students to persevere through rigorous coursework and calculated expectations of postsecondary institutions. School districts more than not, solely focus on Academic factors such as rigorous coursework completion, high school grade point average (HSGPA), and ACT scores and never consider other factors associated with students’ college preparedness. Non-academic factors such as students’ confidence, self-motivation, finances, social support, family support, and some researchers would say the most important non-academic factor is social integration. Social Integration is considered a postsecondary student’s ability to connect with others through joining organizations, meeting and building relationships with new positive friends, and developing friendships with college employees (Tinto, 1975). These practices reduce the chances of students feeling home sick or a sense of loneliness.  Both contribute to students dropping out of college.

All students who enter college have gone through K-12 exposed to contrasting experiences. Research findings by Stupinsky, Renaud, Perry, Ruthig, Haynes, and Clifton (2007) suggest individual differences have a major impact on students’ post-secondary achievement. Adaptability, endurance, motivation, self-efficacy, self-control, mindset and self-regulation leverage how students react to academic expectations of college, college life expectations, and transitioning.  Mind-sets are the attitudes, beliefs, and emotions students have about themselves and schooling (Dweck, 2006; Walton, & Cohen, 2011). Examples include engagement, motivation, self-efficacy, and persistence (Robbins et al., 2004).

Academic preparedness cannot live in isolation. Students who complete AP courses, score high on ACT/SAT, and earn high grade point averages are less likely to drop-out of college due to poor academic performance. Instead, dropping out is possibly due to their inability to integrate socially as well as not being motivated by their college selection.  First year students who join orientation programs have a higher success rate in college opposed to students who do not participate in such social clubs. Research findings also suggest students who were admitted to colleges with a low ACT score and grade point average but yet had strong social connections and supports, had much better graduation success (Schnell, 2003). These findings also “suggest students’ entering characteristics play an important role in persistence to graduation, but potential for success can be increased with the addition of first-year programs” (Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004, p. 14).  Furthermore, research results support the notion that when schools consider pre-college academic strength such as GPA, ACT scores, and non-academic predictors students’ performance increases and the same can be said for their sustainability through rigorous post-secondary years.  ACT (2010; 2012) research shows that differences in college success across racial/ethnic and income groups narrow when students have the requisite academic achievement and relevant nonacademic skills (Robbins, 2004; 2006).

Alliance of Academic and Non-Academic Factors

College retention programs can do a better job of retaining students by combining both academic and non-academic factors. The most compelling alliance to retention happens when academic and the most important non-academic factors are parallel to each other (Asera, 1998; O’Brien & Shed, 2001; Tucker, 1999). Many students with poor academic performance still endure the rigor of college due to their social integration and feelings of belonging with their chosen college. Universities that implement programs that embrace mentoring and support groups into their school’s mission, enhances levels of student involvement, motivation, and academic self-confidence. Consequently, students ultimately remain committed to the institution (Padgett & Reid, 2003). Interventions will help keep students actively engaged as well as help students meet the expectations of academia and college life transitions.


ACT, Inc. (2010). The condition of college and career readiness. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.www.libproxy.wvu.edu/ehost/

ACT, Inc. (2012). Creating your explore and plan: Road map to student success. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/education/benchmarks.html

Asera, R. (1998). Supporting student persistence. Black Issues in Higher Education, 15(10), 104.

Conley, D. T. (2010). College and career ready: Helping all students succeed beyond high school. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

DeBerard, M. S., Speilmans, G. I., & Julka, D. (2004). Predictors of academic achievement and retention among college freshmen: A longitudinal study. College Student Journal, 38(1), 66-80.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine.

Lotkowski, V., Robbins, S., & Noeth, R. (2004). The role of academic and non-academic factors in improving college retention. ACT, Inc.

Padgett, V. R., & Reid, J. F., Jr. (2003). Five-year evaluation of the student diversity program: A Retrospective quasi-experiment. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 4(2), 135-145.

Stupinsky, R. H., Renaud, R. D., Perry, R. P., Ruthig, J. C., Haynes, T. L. & Clifton, R. A., (2007). Comparing self-esteem and perceived control as predictors of first-year college students’ academic achievement. Social Psychology of Education, 10, 303-330. doi: 10.1007/s11218-007-9020-4

Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89-125.

Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Tinto, V. (1988). Stages of student departure: Reflections on the longitudinal characteristics of students leaving. Journal of Higher Education, 59, 438-455.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Tinto, V. (2012). Moving from theory to action: A model of institutional action for student success. In A. Seidman (Ed.), College student retention: Formula for student success (pp. 255-256). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science Magazine, 331, 1447-1451

Wimberly, G. L., & Noeth, R. J. (2005). College readiness begins in middle school. ACT policy report. Ames, IA: ACT, Inc.

Transformational Change as a new Building Leader


Social change tends to change ones’ attitudes, behaviors, laws, policies and institutions for the sake of inclusion, fairness, variance, and opportunity. Change involves collective actions of individuals who are closest to the organization or social problems.  This allows stakeholders opportunities to develop solutions that address pressing social issues or ills.

People have their daily routines down and people feel their way is beneficial to them, however, never realizing how significantly harmful to the entire organization.   As one reflects over the development of this great land we call The United States of America, we are quickly reminded of the heavy price many paid as a result of social change, or should I say many lives were taken due to opposing viewpoints brought on by change.  Just think some people prefer to harm you for having a difference of opinion instead of simple conversation that may result in a constructive compromise.

Role of Leaders in Student Achievement

“The purpose of supervision should be the enhancement of teachers’ pedagogical skills, with the ultimate goal of enhancing student achievement” (Marzano, Frontier, & Livingston, 2011, p. 3).  School administrators are top officials responsible for establishing objectives to meet the needs of students, educators, parents, and the community.  Superintendents meet these needs by implementing detailed policies and guidelines for schools within their districts.  Superintendents are to make sure all schools perform proficiently and enforce all rules and regulations established by the Board of Education.  Assessments provide concrete evidence of success on the part of the student, teacher, and the system. To ensure principals are savvy, superintendents must make sure principals gain necessary knowledge to be successful.  In most urban and rural locations, which usually have high numbers of low-performing students, high-poverty schools, and ineffective teaching practices, it can be challenging for districts to attract and maintain great principals and teachers.  Professional development received by the principals should be visible and consistently demonstrated by administrators and all involved in the educational process throughout the organization for the sake of student success. In the next section, the author makes the case for adaptive change and the challenges that comes when trying to shift mindsets of the organization.

Personal Theory of Leadership

A leader is an energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate leader with a clear vision and ability to lead positive changes in followers.

Transformational leadership can very well be defined as an energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate leader who leads to positive changes in those who follow. Transformational leaders are also inspired to help every member of the organization excel in order to protect the organization.   I was disappointed to see that Transformational Leaders tend to communicate poorly because of expectations that people should know what to do.  Overall, I am pleased with all of the positive that comes with being a Transformational Leader.

James MacGregor Burns has been credited for introducing the concept of Transformational Leadership.  Burns (1978) believed, transformational is transparent when “leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of moral and motivation” (Bruns, 1978).  Transformational leaders tend to have strong personality with a great vision.  These leaders have the ability to motivate followers to change their views or positions, perceptions and consistently strive for commonality within the institution (Burns, 1978).

As time progressed, Bernard M. Bass followed the path of Burns.  Needless to say, Bass expanded James Burns’ original thoughts regarding transformational leadership.  Bass (1985) suggested transformational leaders earn trust, respect, and admiration from their followers.  Bass believes there are four different components of transformational leadership.

  1. Intellectual Stimulation—Not only do transformational leaders challenge the status quo; they tend to promote creativity among followers.  They motivate followers to explore new ways of doing things and new chances to learn (Bass, 1985).
  2. Individualized Consideration—Transformational leadership also involves offering support and encouragement to individual followers. To keep this support, transformational leaders keep their lines of communication open so members of the organization feel comfortable to approach the bench and offer solutions (Bass, 1985).
  3. Inspirational Motivation—Transformational leaders have a clear vision that each member of the institution is able to articulate (Bass, 1985).
  4. Idealized Influence—The transformational leader usually takes the hit for the team. Transformational leaders serve as a role model for others involved in academic process.  As a result, of the followers trust and respect for the leader, they mimic their leader and internalize the leader’s ideals (Bass, 1985).

Transformational leaders are never in their office hiding out.  They are usually visible and will stand up to be counted.  Transformational leaders show by their attitudes and actions how everyone else ought to behave.  These leaders make habitual efforts to rally their members, consistently doing the rounds, listening, soothing and enthusing (Bass, 1990).  Transformational leaders apply sustain motivation for their followers.  Small changes get big recognition.  This technique of recognizing and praising accomplishments keep members of the organization motivated.

When I received the call from my direct supervisor to report to duty there was no doubt I was able to take on the challenges that plague public education.  Needless to say, I did not have a clue about some things such as the budget and the unbelievable amount of baggage students bring to school which negatively impact teaching and learning.

Analysis of within the Organization  

 In 2008, RUSD appointed me as the Directing Principal of Gilmore Middle School in Racine, Wisconsin.  GMS is an urban school with an extremely high special education population and 75% of the students are living below poverty. The Assistant Superintendent of RUSD, called me into their office.  During this intense meeting, my supervisor explained all of the problems associated with GMS and they did not fall short when communicating expectations.  My supervisor discussed and presented failing test scores and how students were not learning. My supervisor was also concerned with the community’s perception of the school.  My supervisor challenged me to make changes, but at the same time they did not offer many solutions to help bring about the needed changes that were so vividly described. My survival skills kicked in.  I decided to read, read, and read.  There was no one to turn to except myself.  I read Fullan, Marzano, DuFour, Ravitch, Diane, Tripp C., Daniel T. Willingham, David Conley, Hattie, and my favorite is Mike Schmoker.  Having the opportunity to attend a five days Differentiated Instruction Seminar, which certified me as a DI trainer was priceless.  The differentiation training gave me the capability to train my staff with confidence.  Attending research based conferences such as Douglas Reeves and Mike Schmoker’s conferences, allowed me the privilege to absorb valuable information to share with staff.  I also had the opportunity to sit in the same room with the magnificent Deborah Meier and be part of a conversation that matters.  As a result of GMS being a Title I school, administration was able to purchase current research-based curriculum and instruction books for the entire staff.  The essential books were read and modeled on Professional Development Day. As leaders for real change, administration eventually hired team-building consultants to come in and work with the faculty.  I realized the atmosphere was toxic and there was a lack of trust everywhere.  Some of the Title 1 budget was used to send multiple faculty members to professional development conferences throughout the country.  During the summer of 2008 and prior to the start of school, I asked certain charismatic teachers if they would be leaders in order to train and assist the rest of their young colleagues.  As a staff of learning leaders, we applied all new research-based interventions, strategies, and trainings and put them into practice.  Teachers were encouraged to meet on their on time because they did not share common preparation time.  Teachers met and worked together constantly, even outside their workdays.  The actions the teachers took upon themselves to collaborate during their summer vacation gave me the opportunity to measure how hungry they really were for real change that mattered.  It was apparent faculty members were willing and eager to take on the horrific challenges as well as, put their trust in me, the newly appointed “green” Directing Administrator.

As the newly appointed principal, there were a real concerns with the homes proximity to Gilmore Middle School.  Therefore, myself and the assistant principal decided to grab  pad and pencil.  We set out to knock on the doors of homes immediately surrounding GMS.  The citizens were shocked to see me at their front door.  I introduced myself as the new principal.  It was important for me to understand the community’s concerns and attitude regarding the students.  To my surprise, I was warmly welcomed and 100% of the community stated, “Since 1973, no principal had ever knocked on their door.”  This was my way of letting the community know that changing the negative perception of Gilmore was part of my vision and mission.

As the newly appointed administrator who understands the importance of effective teaching strategies, the entire first year the organization focused on effective strategies.  The entire staff received a free copy of Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction that Works.  After collaboratively studying the book as a staff, the practices were implemented.  Whenever administration went on walk-throughs for observations, some of the nine strategies had to be included in the teachers’ instructional delivery.  The few things mentioned above are examples of what it takes to be a successful transformational leader.

Transformational Leaders compromise their attention between action that creates progress and the mental state of their followers.  Transformational Leaders are people-oriented and believe that achievement comes first and enduring through deep and sustained and commitment.   However, the negative to being a Transformational Leader is leaders such as these tend to see the big picture, but not the details.  When organizations do not need transforming, then such a leader will become discouraged (Bass, 1990).  The knowledge and priceless experience gained over the years have truly aided me in becoming the 2011 Administrator of the year.  I enjoy the hustle and bustle of being a transformational agent.

Failure is not an Option, Dealing with Failure, Re-Do’s and Do-Over’s/Adaptive Change

To effectively meet the challenges associated with the multifaceted layers of education, leaders must pose a vast amount of knowledge regarding the biological and environmental aspects of learning.  Students are products of their environment.  Students enter school with very different life experiences.  The different experiences can very well impact student achievement (Wormeli, 2006).

As a building leader, it is imperative to ensure teachers and others are being fair across the board with fair grading practices in a truly differentiated classroom. During my initial year as building administrator, focused our attention on “The Zero” on the 100 points grading scale, the value of homework, and allowing do-overs or re-takes in mixed-ability classrooms.  Little did I the building administration realize that talking about something much lighter such as the death penalty would have been easier.  Teachers had severely strong opinions and not to mention there was push back from some of the old guards or veterans.  Nevertheless, consistent among those who had problems embracing any type of change that removed them from their comfort zone (Heifetz, 2002). Conversations around why we as an organization needed to embrace different grading practices were not being accepted by many of educators.

I tried making the case by disclosing the most effective grading practices provided reliable, specific, and timely checking for understanding designed to enhance student achievement (Marzano, 2007; O’Connor, 2007).  In the highly effective classrooms, grades are only one of several ways of feedback provided to students.  The benefits of effective grading practices are not limited to diminished failure of students.  When students’ failure is reduced, students’ attitude and behavior greatly improves, as a result, faculty esteem improves, resources allocated to remedial courses are reduced, and resources invested in electives and advanced subjects improve (Reeves, 2008). As the instructional leader, my moral compass led me to address why we collectively had to take the correct position as it related to appropriate grading. This was the adaptive change I was led to address.

Current Reality (Support and Obstruction)

There was an obligation on my behalf to do something about accurate grading.  Grading should only convey what the students understand (Kohn, 2011).  Inappropriate or appropriate behavior should be graded in another column when reporting grades.  To average students’ behavior with the students’ regular grades, which normally measure what students understand, falsifies what they children actually know (Wormeli, 2006).  Students fail courses, assignments, and tests daily as a result of inaccurate grading.  The Alliance for Excellent Education estimated the annual cost of high school failure exceeds $330 billion (“An Economic Case,” 2007).  However, this is not all as a result of ineffective teaching, learning, or grading.  Some failure exits due to students consistently being absent, as well as, poor student performance.

Despite the glaring research that revealed our current grading practices worked against students and the economy, administrators and teachers continued the practices such as averaging formative assessments with the summative assessment. Homework counting as much as 30% to 50% of the final grade and grading with the zero on a 100 points scale.  As leader, I felt it was absurd to say the least.  Students did not stand a chance with these flawed practices.  “Sometimes it was only after grading had ended that we realized just how harmful grading had been to students (Kohn, 2011).   On the other hand, it was motivating to know that many teachers were on board and they were open to change.  The support made it easier for conversation that led to eventually implementing accurate practices.  A teacher leader in the building didn’t really see any blind spots for fairly grading students.  She did point out that some of our educated parents will think we are dumbing down the curriculum.  Parents tend to judge school effectiveness based on the amount of homework a teacher gives.  Despite parents’ level of education, parents do not realize homework is a form of formative assessment.  Students may be less likely to turn in their homework once they realize it is of no value.  Therefore, to make sure students completed homework assignments, students had to complete all homework and tuned it in to the teacher in order to take the chapter test.  This practice held students accountable, but homework was not going to be 30 to 50% of students’ final grade. Though I did not like this practice of aligning homework with taking the chapter test, I had to compromise.

I continued making my case as to why we had to change, teachers who had been teaching for a decade or more were not necessarily on board with the research presented.  Naturally objections were raised to changing the way we  graded. Old habits were hard to break, but once parents and students had an understanding and were reassured of the new research-based grading practices, the new practices were  embraced by students and parents (Kohn, 1999).

Susan Brookhart (2011) suggests to get the conversation started about grading practices, it is important to have an understanding of the faculty as it relates to the research and their personal opinions about grading.  As the leading administrator of the building, it was important to gather information about what teachers actually knew about current research on effective grading.  A survey regarding grading was put in every teacher’s mailbox to complete.  Some of the research is shocking, but with more professional development these teachers can come to understand.  As a Transformational leader, it is imperative to not give up on naysayers, but instead, continue to expose and scaffold the naysayers.  Hopefully, the success of small to moderate gains will be enough to persuade them over, without compromising many of their existing effective teaching practices.

After analyzing the collected data on grading practices, it was apparent some teachers still needed time to understand that facts should trump ones’ opinion. Opinions are very seldom supported by research.  Unfair practices simply hurt students.  The data findings from the survey revealed that 60% of the surveyed participants disagree with current grading practices.  94% of the educators do not believe poor grades prompt students to try harder.  In other words, students give up many times due demonizing failure and not providing opportunities for re-teaching and retakes (Wormeli, 2006).  87% of the people who completed the survey believe zeroes do not have to be given to report a student’s missing homework or that he or she lack understanding of particular standard.  It is with sincere pleasure to report that 100% agree students should have opportunities for Re-takes, Re-dos, and Do-overs (Wormeli, 2007).  Overall, the data revealed the staff supported me as their Transformational Leader, the strong followers believes in me as trusted me as a leader.  The data also disclosed the teachers were opened to challenging the status quo; for the good of student success.  Because it matters!!! Nevertheless, there were challenges, barriers, and strong mental models.

Faculty’s Perception

Teachers gave consistent excuses to support their unfair grading practices.  These excuses range from “I am teaching the child about the importance of deadlines and responsibility” to “We are preparing them for society.” Wormeli (2007) states nothing could be farther from the truth. As directing principal of an urban middle school of 800 students surrounded by high poverty, I could not continue to allow teachers to unfairly grade students’ understandings of targets, benchmarks, and standards.  Human progress should not be measured with the 100 points scale.  The 100 points scale is not designed to measure human progress.  The three building administrators realized that teachers were sincerely trying to effectively implement differentiation in their classroom, but under-mind differentiation with their unfair grading practices.  It became apparent that administration leading from the balcony (Heifetz, 2002), had a moral imperative to bring these unfair assessing practices to light through simple and fair conversation.  Wheatley (2009, p. 7) states, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.  Simple, honest, human conversation…  Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate or public meetings.  Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.

During professional development day, I took a risk by disclosing research by Guskey (2001), Wormeli (2006), and Reeves (2004, 2008) on why homework should not be averaged into the summative grade and how homework should be of no value due to homework being formative assessment and students should not be graded on new information in which they are coming to know (Wormeli, 2006).  Formative assessment is immediate data that drives instruction.  Teachers who had been teaching for a decade or more were not necessarily on board with the research presented.  Some teachers quickly reminded me, “anyone can make research say what they want it to say.”  This statement was a strong indication that getting total buy-in by all educators was off the table. This statement did not prevent progress because these types of opinions were expected.  After all, change is slow.  One would be naïve to think discounting homework would go over well.

Even though there is significant evidence supporting that grading with zero as punishment for missing assignments does not work, (Guskey, 2000) and the obvious mathematical defect in the use of the zero on a100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), the majority of teachers consistently decide to grade using the zero as punishment.  As leader of the building, I proposed to the staff, if you want to dramatically reduce student failure rates, start with discontinuing the use of zero and averaging homework into the final grade and allow re-takes because research suggest that one glove size does not fit all (Wormeli, 2007).  All students do not get it at the same time. Many times re-teaching is required. Rick Wormeli explains, in the larger world people are allowed re-takes on pilot test, CPA test, GMAT, teacher praxis exam, lawyers bar exam, LSAT, motorcycle license test, driver’s license test, and engineering exams for full credit.  Research shows that people learn more from failure than they do with consistent success.  Therefore, “Failure is Preferred.”  Wormeli explains it takes being exposed to something at least 24 times for 80% proficiency (Wormeli, 2006).   Opposing views of the zero claims students need to have consequences for failing to turn work in on time.  As administrator, I agreed but only if the zero is fully recoverable.  Giving zeroes on deadlines for homework and assignments is not teaching larger world lessons.  Instead, it is teaching to the conveyer belt.  Conveyer belt learning gives the child one time to show evidence of understanding.  “Only a weak teacher does not allow retakes” (Wormeli, 2006).

The most effective grading practices provide reliable, specific, and timely checking for understanding designed to enhance student achievement (Marzano, 2007; O’Connor, 2007).  In the highly effective classrooms, grades are only one of several ways of feedback provided to students.  The benefits of effective grading practices are not limited to diminished failure of students.  When students’ failure reduces, students’ attitude and behavior greatly improves, as a result, faculty esteem improves, resources allocated to remedial courses are reduced, and resources invested in electives and advanced subjects improve (Reeves, 2008).  This seems to be a non-negotiable.  Although changing a grading system is colossal task to conquer, the benefits are so huge it is worth doing.

To help change this unfair grading practice, the leaders and others must create a sense of urgency.  Identify the accurate cost of inconsistent grading procedures. Second, administration should recognize teacher leaders who are already improving policies.  They may have already eliminated the unfair practice (Reeves, 2008).  Third, administration should gather facts and evidence that will give a great reasoning for decision making.  Finally, reassure parents, students, and teachers that certain things will not change.  Students will be required to have letter grades, transcripts, honor rolls, IEPs and everything else they have always had as part of the system.  However, they will not have irrational grading policies that give students large discrepancy and misrepresentation in their work. The next section of this article explains some of the important action steps taken to be inclusive and collaborative with all stakeholders.

Procedures for the Implementation Accurate Grading

  Like almost all other complex traditional social organizations, the

Schools will accommodate in ways that require little or no change…

The strength of the status quo—its underlying axioms, its pattern of

Power relationships, its sense of tradition and therefore what seems right,

natural, and proper—almost automatically rules out options for change.

Seymour Sarason (1990, p. 35).

Downloading—Schools and districts sincerely interested in reforming grading practices first, must hold conversations about it in ways that challenge colleagues on the questions that matter and leads to change (Brookhart, 2011).  It is necessary to focus on the main issue.  The main issue should not focus on what scale to use, how much to report performance, how many grades to average or combine, or how to connect them.  Susan Brookhart (2011) believes these secondary concerns can be decided only after the main questions are answered.  The main questions should ask: “What meaning do we want grades to communicate?”  Who is (are) the primary intended audience(s) for this message?”  Brookhart states, “Grades are not about what students earn; they are about what students learn.” The next main question should ask, “To what degree do you and your colleagues believe that?”  If the organization does agree, “What are the advantages to you and your students?” These questions mentioned lead to the right discussion that puts the organization on the right track for change that accurately assess students’ understanding of content.

Talking nice—Brookhart (2011) states to get things started, faculty should come together in small groups in order to have each member disclose his or her approval or disapproval of the four discussions questions.  It is important to poll the groups to see where there is agreement (checks); and disagreement (X’s); and unsure or mixed opinions (some of each).  Afterwards, begin the conversation with the areas of agreement (Brookhart, 2011).

Debate—Secondly, Brookhart (2011) discusses the importance of randomly assigning teachers the pro and con position for the initial discussion with four or five members, on each side despite the teachers’ position on grading (p. 12). Next, it is important to have teachers prepare for a debate in which they apply that position and support it with concrete logic and supporting evidence.  This includes evidence that they find in resource material.  “The teams’ presentation should include anticipating the arguments of the opposing side and preparing a defense for these, also using logic and evidence” (p. 12). (Dialogue or reflective inquiry) Once the formal debate has taken place, the entire faculty can reflect on what was learned.

When schools and districts start conversation on grading practices, they have an agenda.  If this is the case, the agenda should be transparent.  Nevertheless, this does not mean the discussion should be about how to make members of the organization support the agenda.  All stakeholders should be heard, and people’s right to hold them should be accepted.  When this happens, teachers and others will be more open to new ideas; even the positions including the ones that challenge their own views that come from peers who understand their stance and why.

Districts and schools that decide to focus on accurate grading for student success engage in professional development that focus on “Learning” as well as to how to implement new grading procedures.  However, what many districts find out when they take on this monster of changing grading practices, they have questions about (blind spot) “Learning” (Brookhart, 2011).   (Presencing) In order to be successful with fair grading practices, Brookhart (2011) explains why teachers must develop teaching and learning techniques, checking for understanding strategies, as well as coaching strategies.  Brookhart goes on by elaborating on the need for teachers to develop skills around differentiating instructions effectively.

Finally, to seriously reform grading, start by having conversations on the issues that matter about what grades should represent and who the primary audience for grades should be.  Effective conversations about grading must focus sincerely with educators’ lifelong beliefs and secured practices.  The organization is required to have discussions about foundational issues, not details (Brookhart, 2011).  Challenge other positions with respect and look for the underlying concerns.  Everyone part of the process is valuable and hopefully with success the naysayers will hop on board the wagon of consistent student success.

Yes, there were reluctant teachers, however, many teachers started embracing the idea of fair grading.  The faculty discussed the changes during their PLC meetings.  The teachers submitted their discussions to administration through email.  They started letting go and emerged with adaptive change.  There are no words to describe how pleased I was to know that my faculty had an open heart and open will to change unfair to more accurate grading for the sake of the student achievement.  Changing the culture of the school to a more sound grading practice will breed conflict, confusion, and it challenges competence.  As a result me realizing this,  it was imperative for me as a leader to take things slow and scaffold teachers along the way.  Implementing different grading practices had to happen on many levels.  To successfully promote the change, it took more than one year and it had to be a collaborative effort.  I understand this process is time consuming nevertheless, administration should be willing to stay the course.  Administration cannot be the only cheerleaders for much needed change.  All internal and external stakeholders are essential for any adaptive change to be a success.



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