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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Solving the Education Equation

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education story, U.S. Department of Education senior research analyst Clifford Adelman commented that, when it comes to assessment, "The thinking is, 'Let's play with a formula,' rather than 'Let's change the lives of students.'" The publication reported that, the rigor of a student's high-school curriculum, more than test scores or grades, is a better predictor of whether the student will graduate from college.

Others have made the point that motivating students is an important factor in the equation. "Just taking more summer school classes isn't the answer," said Henry M. Levin. "It's as though, if you take the ingredients of failure and double them somehow, that will equal success."

Levin also stresses paying attention to the people in the equation, not just the numbers. "We need to think about why the kids fail," he said. He noted that some students are from troubled families, some move from school to school, while others are from extremely poor families where four or six people sleep in a single room.

"Those aren't the kinds of problems that yield to educational solutions," he noted.

The school factor cannot be ignored. The New York Times recently reported that in New York City more than 25 percent of middle and high schools do not have enough textbooks, 10 percent have no library, and 75 percent of the computers in city schools were so antiquated they could not run most new software. In addition, deteriorating facilities and lack of classroom space created an added burden.

Levin added that, "Teachers have lives and problems outside the classroom as well," that may contribute to the equation.

Tests, standards, and assessment criteria have been and will continue to be a part of education for a long time. Teachers College continues to study educational policy and provide the results of those studies to the future leaders in education. Ideally, research will shed light on a solution that will provide the key to bringing all students up to a higher standard, and assessing the needs of those who are not yet there. All students should be measured with an eye to their specific circumstances so that the results of those assessments will put all of them on a level playing field.previous page