SALT LAKE CITY -- Are you smarter than a fifth grader? According to a recent study by the Center For American Progress, many grade school students report that their work is "often" or "always" too easy, due to boredom or a lack of rigorous courses and materials, among other things.
"You might think that the nation’s teenagers are drowning in schoolwork," Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal wrote in their report. "Images of sullen students buried in textbooks often grace the covers of popular parenting magazines, while well-heeled suburban teenagers often complain they have to work the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments. But when we recently examined a federal survey of students in elementary and high schools around the country, we found the opposite: Many students are not being challenged in school."
Thirty-seven percent of fourth-graders say their math work is "often" of "always" too easy, according to the findings reported in a USA Today article. 57 percent of eighth-graders say the same about their history work, and 39 percent of 12th-graders say they rarely write about what they read in class. The findings "analyze three years of questionnaires from the Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test given each year," according to USA Today.
"Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the center who co-wrote the report, said the data challenge the 'school-as-pressure-cooker' image found in recent movies such as 'Race to Nowhere,'" reported USA Today. "Although those kids certainly exist at one end of the academic spectrum, Boser said, 'the broad swath of American students are not as engaged as much in their schoolwork.'"
The extensive report can be boiled down to a few main points, which are potentially troubling for students and educators alike:
Many schools are not challenging students and large percentages of students report that their schoolwork is “too easy.”
Many students are not engaged in rigorous learning activities.
Students don’t have access to key science and technology learning opportunities.
Too many students don’t understand their teacher’s questions and report that they are not learning during class.
Students from disadvantaged background are less likely to have access to more rigorous learning opportunities.
Florida State University English education professor Shelbie Witte, a former classroom teacher, said standardized tests limit material teachers can cover. "The curriculum is just void of critical thinking, creative thinking," she said in the USA Today article. As a result, students are "probably bored, and when they're bored, they think the classes are easy."
USA Today created a post titled "Was school too easy for you?" that encouraged readers to post personal comments and experiences about their schooling.
"My high school cut all honors programs my freshmen year," one reader wrote, "under the rationale that the 'smarter kids should be in class with the kids that weren't as smart so they could help teach them.' To say I was bored (especially in English class) was an understatement."
"My grade school and high school did not have high standards," said another reader. "I thought that I was a genius, as I could get A's without studying. When I went to college, I was astounded at how much better educated my classmates were. Because I did not have to study in high school, I had absolutely no discipline. I also had to take remedial math classes, even though I had algebra and geometry in (high school). I had to take summer school to graduate on time."
The report concluded by highlighting several solutions to this disturbing trend. The authors suggested that policymakers must continue to push for higher, more challenging standards; students need more rigorous learning opportunities; and the United States needs to figure out ways to provide all students with the education that they deserve; and researchers and educators should continue to develop student surveys.
"Over the past few years, many states have engaged in promising reforms that address the issues we raise in this report," Boser and Rosenthal concluded. "But our findings suggest we need to do far more to improve the learning experience for all students."