8th grade portrait, cropped
Whose responsibility is it for student achievement? Many educational leaders would like to lay all the blame at the feet of teachers if students fail to learn, and, I admit, there has been a lot of research pointing to the profound effect that good teaching can have on student achievement. However, there is an elephant in the room. 

No matter how wonderful the teacher, no matter what excellent teachers can do to encourage their students to learn, the ultimate responsibility for learning belongs to the student. Who has control over what that student can do? It isn't the teacher. 

I found a *mega-study (of 50 years of research in education) where all kinds of variables were listed according to how much each of them had an effect on student achievement. When I looked at these variables, I was struck by two things. One was that the number one factor affecting student achievement happens to be classroom management, but the other was how FEW things listed in the top 10 are actually under the teacher's control. Most of the deciding factors are directly related to the students' habits, family life, attitudes, and relationships. Here is the list:

1. classroom management
2. student work/study habits (metacognitive processes)
3. student aptitude (cognitive processes)
4. student home environment/parent support
5. student relationships with teachers
6.  social/behavioral (positive & non-disruptive behavior)
7. motivational/student attitude toward subject
8. peers' academic ambition
9. quantity of instruction
10. school culture

 This mega-study found that ONLY four of the top ten variables affecting student achievement were the direct responsibility of the teacher; classroom management, instruction, relationships, and motivation. Honestly, the student shares responsibility for maintaining good relationships with teachers and is completely responsible for having a good attitude. This leaves only TWO things out of the top ten that are ENTIRELY the responsibility of the teacher - classroom management and instruction. 

I ask, why are we holding teachers 100% accountable for their students' learning when there are so many factors outside of our control? 

The state of Alabama is currently considering a bill that would create unfair accountability, tying student test scores to teacher evaluations. This has been proven time after time to be an invalid and unfair method, yet the idea is back on the table. Please ask your legislators to say "NO" to the PREP Act! We teachers, and the students we serve, deserve better! 

Below is a table from *"What Helps Students Learn,", an exhaustive research study by Margaret Wang, Geneva Haertel, Herbert Walberg; "Synthesis of Research; What Helps Students Learn?," 1993. 

Further Resources: 

The Forgotten Factor In Student Achievement: The Student, by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

It's the Students, Stupid!, Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

"Of course what teachers and all the other employees of our school systems do is important. But ignoring students and their work, and blaming teachers for poor student academic performance, would be like blaming a trainer if his boxer gets knocked out in the ring, while not noticing that the boxer stands in front of his opponent with his hands at his sides all the time.
We need high academic achievement, but we will not get it by blaming teachers and driving them out of the profession, while not noticing that students have an important, and even crucial, responsibility for their own learning.
Ignoring the role of our students in their own education, which at the “highest” levels of funded programs we do, is not only dumb, it will virtually consign all the other efforts to failure. Think about it." 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


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