In public schools, there is a tremendous need for the average learner to be more challenged. One educator observed that public schools may do a good job with the academic superstars and the educationally or physically handicapped, but the average child can fall through the cracks of the system and just drift.
“The greatest virtue of average students is that they don’t cause trouble,” said a principal, “but it is this virtue that also causes them to be ignored. These ‘middle of the roaders’ are often expected to work on their own while the overworked teacher focuses on bright kids, those with learning problems and troublemakers.”
In most schools, as students approach eighth grade, they are tracked into low, high and average classes for math, English and science. Then in high school, they enter corresponding tracks, such as remedial, vocational, general, academic or honors.
Stanford University professor Dr. Sanford Dornbusch says that 85 percent of all students finish in the track in which they started as ninth-graders. It is very difficult for average- and lower-track students to change tracks since schools often make decisions based on past rather than present performance or on improvement. Honor students often have the best teachers and educational opportunities.
Thus, the child in the middle may be slighted. Parents can help this situation by finding ways to challenge their students — no matter what their IQ or standardized test scores.
Parents are often unaware that there are different educational tracks. However, they need to become familiar with the system. Find out what courses your student is taking and what track he’s on. He needs you to be his advocate.
Dr. Dornbusch advises, “You want your child in the highest track in which she can perform. If your child has been in average-track English, maybe it’s time to say to the school, ‘Look, why don’t we give Sarah a try in Honors English for three to six months?’ Usually the school will comply with a trial period. Then it’s time for you and your child to get to work. Get the student some assistance: tutoring, much encouragement, and anything to help her catch up with the higher track.”
Even if the student cannot change to higher-track classes right away, at least he or she could occasionally participate in the more demanding classes. Sitting in on discussions and debates and doing research on an area of interest challenges and encourages the average-achiever.
If students are grouped according to ability, make sure that just because of a low reading score, your child is not placed in the low group in science, math, etc. Dr. Arnold Burron recommends, “Let school personnel know that you expect different grouping standards for different subjects…All children do not fit into one mold. Programs, expectations and materials must be individualized to being out the best in each child.”Arnold Burron, Helping Kids Cope: A Parent’s Guide to Stress Management (Elgin, IL: David C. Cook, 1988), pp. 99-100.
Cooperative learning, where an average-achieving child is paired with a brighter child for science lab work or a history project, might be helpful. A mentorship program in which a student works with an adult professional in a field of the student’s interest also inspires and challenges students.