The first wave of national rankings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are receiving a lot of attention, but there is some very interesting data which tends to emerge from these results over time, often informative and often challenging our assumptions. This graph from the Key Findings document did just that (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it):
According to the PISA Reports, “Stratification in school systems, which is the result of policies like grade repetition and selecting students at a young age for different “tracks” or types of schools, is negatively related to equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less-stratified systems.”
This is the latest contribution in the forever-long debate about the streaming of students. It is interesting to see the negative relationship regarding motivation. The equity issue could be understood – as students are streamed, those requiring more assistance tend to not get it, and lower level classes may receive less experienced teachers and fewer resources. But, it is the findings around motivation I find very interesting. I have often heard (and have likely repeated) that enriched/advanced classes allow high achievers to work with similar learners, allowing another group of students to be the high flyers in the ‘regular’ classes — opportunities they may not have had without the streaming. The PISA results tend to counter this. It is interesting to see that Canada is low in streaming internationally, but high in equity and motivation. The current push in British Columbia and Canada, around personalization and differentiation, embraces the idea that there are different levels of learners learning together in a classroom.
I also recently read an article from author, commentator and sports contributor, John O’Sullivan, Our Biggest Mistake: Talent selection instead of talent identification which Alison McNeil shared on Twitter. This article takes on a similar topic, in the sports arena. In it, O’Sullivan describes the differences between those who select talent and those who identify talent:
Talent selection is the culling of players with the current ability to participate and be successful in events taking place in the near future. Talent identification, on the other hand, is the prediction of future performance based upon an evaluation of current physical, technical, tactical and psychological qualities. Talent selection is pretty simple; talent identification is an art. One yields great results today; the other builds elite athletes and winning teams for the future. Our current “win at all costs” youth sports culture promotes talent selection. When a coach is pressured to win by parents or a club, or when he or she feels the need to win to serve their own ego, that coach becomes a talent selector. When you are focused on talent selection, you are picking athletes to help you win now, and cutting ones that will not. You are looking at current athleticism, technical ability and traits to help achieve short-term success.
O’Sullivan concludes “the emphasis on winning prior to high school is destroying youth sports.” And while he is making his argument to a United States audience the same debate occurs in Canada. While the Long Term Athletic Development Stages are being adopted by many sports organizations, it is also being scoffed at by others who see the de-emphasis on competition at young ages as a terrible sign of the times. It is interesting to take O’Sullivan’s writings, and substitute “learner” for “athlete” and “student selection” for “talent selection”. Enriched classes are very much like our private, tiered sports programs. I have heard similar arguments for streaming young people in sports as young as five, as I have with enriched classes — they allow the high flyers to play with others like them, and allow others to excel at a lower level without the high flyers present.
O’Sullivan makes the argument that U.S. (and I would say Canadian) sports programs are in deep trouble unless there is a radical shift away from talent selection and toward talent identification. I see this as a similar argument that the PISA results are making with learning around the world – those who select and stream talented students instead of identifying and personalizing learning are bound to have less equity and lower levels of motivation.
This is another example of how efforts in our schools like removing letter grades at younger ages, and focusing on learning, are similar to efforts in our community sports to remove the keeping score and tallying of winners at young ages. While some argue these efforts are reducing standards and rigor, research is showing we need to look at youth development differently.