Research and Reflections, Tools and Resources

Every Student Can Learn

Confronting entrenched beliefs about student ability

When I became a teacher, I was told very early on that classrooms are comprised of three sets of students: high achievers, low achievers, and those in the middle. I was encouraged to concentrate intervention efforts on students in the middle because the high achievers were going to be successful no matter what, and the low achievers were a lost cause. This message not only came from colleagues and leadership, but it was also an unspoken, harsh reality our students were well aware of.

In this context, the educators in my school fueled inequities that guaranteed some students who needed us the most would never succeed. Many of those students developed a negative perception of teachers, learning, and the entire school system. Who can blame them? Their so-called achievement gaps were caused by what we provided and what we failed to provide. 

Despite contrasting political ideologies, few would argue that the Achilles’ heel of America’s success rests uneasily in her education system. Overall, educators understand the importance of propelling all students to grade-level proficiency in order to effectively prepare students to become viable global competitors. The objective of education is to cultivate the individual academic potential in all of the major disciplines while simultaneously striving for competency in areas of both communication and collaboration. What happens when the mindsets of the educators present a barrier to student success? Further, what happens when adults in schools unknowingly handicap the most underserved students to a point where it becomes impossible for some students to demonstrate grade-level proficiency? 

The time for educators to shift their mindsets and accept that every single student can learn is right now. Districts must make a pledge to deliver systematic phonics instruction, adopt aligned curricula that address the language of the Common Core State Standards, and confront implicit bias that influences decisions at all levels of the American education system. Every single student is entitled to the highest quality of education that starts with a child’s ability to read. Reading is not only a civil right; it is the entry point to success in all major disciplines. 

Empowering teachers with knowledge about the science of reading is the first step. One of the most valuable, free resources for educators is Amplify’s Science of Reading: The Podcast. The podcast features three seasons. Each episode showcases a literacy expert who explains how reading is most effectively taught. The experts deconstruct the scientific literature in digestible bites with relatable, actionable suggestions about what educators can do immediately to improve reading instruction. Topics include information about dyslexia, language comprehension, language acquisition, vocabulary recognition, and so much more! 

The science of reading is not a novelty among reading scholars across the nation. However, this critical information has been absent from the hands of educators on the front lines for far too long. Until now. When you know better, you do better. We all know the achievement gap is a myth. The gap is and has always been a symptom of what we provide. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge to provide all students with tools to read proficiently. 

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About the Author: Dr. Kimberly Sarfde is a public school administrator. She spent the majority of her career working in urban schools before moving to a small town in New Hampshire. She is a four-time recipient of the Sontag Prize in Urban Education (2013-2016), which recognizes outstanding instruction and leadership in urban schools. She is also a teacher-leader fellow with the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE). She is a fierce proponent of bilingualism; her research documents the impact of two-way bilingual immersion programming on math and reading achievement for language minority and language majority students. As a former college dropout who worked at a gas station for seven years to support her four children, Kimberly understands the struggles many families face each day. One educator changed the trajectory of her life and inspired her passion for serving children.