Students learn at different rates. Understanding this fact has allowed for patience, realistic expectations, and better instruction as I differentiate and spiral my lessons. Unfortunately, when standardized test scores are the primary focus of the school year and some students fail to master the tested objectives by the first week of April, one draws a bit of criticism and the sage observation, "What you're doing isn't working."
I just surpassed 25,000 Xbox Achievement Points. I earned those points satisfying challenges in a variety of games. Now, would you rather talk about the points or the games? In a conversation about games, we could talk about visuals, stories, challenges, and genres. That number is meaningless unless we talk about the games. Too often, test scores and grades are like my achievement points--without a discussion on strengths, weaknesses, and improvements, they're meaningless. Children aren't numbers. They aren't standardized test scores, graduation rates, report card averages, or assignment grades. They are children and we should develop their love of learning and discovery. When that happens, they will learn everything we put in front of them and much more.
Report card averages and standardized test scores are different. Standardized tests are word puzzles designed to sell tutoring materials because some students are guaranteed to fail. Report card grades are based on assignments wrapped in games and activities that reinforced specific skills that were taught by teachers who scaffold, encourage, and reteach. Throughout the school year, we were called to task over the margin between test scores and averages. Instead of focusing on the gaps and numbers, administrators should set guidelines about authentic, rigorous assignments and assessments. And, we should be honest with parents about the state tests.
From August to June, my students and I had a few guests. On Career Day, several folks visited and discussed their professions. The administrators made 3 or 4 visits throughout the year, but they didn't stay long. Try as I might, though, I can't remember one person staying to teach a lesson. How is it then that other people in the district receive bonuses for our standardized test scores?
In the classroom, it might be impossible to understand the Big Picture. Running an entire school district must overwhelm the small army of board members, administrators, coordinators, specialists, and assistants who make decisions for the rest of us. On the other hand, it's equally difficult for those same people to understand the Small Picture. A teacher. A class full of students. And hundreds of factors that determine whether a child's day is going to be good or not so good.
I understand why a district pushes it's teachers to research the data. When high test scores are a priority, teacher intuition and daily observations are inadequate. We can trust numbers. During data meetings, though, we don't speak of individual students and growth--we discuss small groups and weak objectives and moving the names up the chart. Teaching children is multifaceted and data is just one piece. While numbers help us categorize students and make lists of objectives, they don't improve instruction and relationships.
While teachers, as professionals, should expect autonomy in their classrooms, the school as a whole should have a vision. To provide that vision, a principal must be the instructional leader of the school. Without that, the school will deteriorate as teacher morale drops, parents experience confusion, and students focus on things other than learning.
For 176 school days, I prepared over 800 hours of instruction. A little over two hours of that was observed by an administrator. That's horribly inadequate. Principals need to spend more time in the classrooms, and, instead of electronic forms, conversations need to happen. More importantly, teachers need to observe one another and discuss lessons. Observations should lead to discussion, and discussions will lead to improvement.
When students fail an assignment, the reasons come from a long list of possibilities. A student may not complete all of the problems in the assignment, or he might have lost the assignment. On the other hand, the student may have completed all of the problems incorrectly but similarly, or he may have run out of time because of football practice, a shower, dinner, and bedtime. To pass judgment on the reason is pointless. The student failed the assignment, so he hasn't mastered a skill. What's the point of recording the score and moving on? We are in the profession to teach students how to read, write, and do arithmetic--not to write numbers in a gradebook. Okay, sure, record the grade, make your point, but you also need to reteach and give an alternate assessment. That's too many grades, they'll say. It inflates the averages, they'll say. It doesn't teach a valuable lesson, they'll say. Okay, then, eliminate all of the factors that prevent kids from doing their very best, including boring lessons, assignments that don't match the lessons, and giving an assessment before the student is ready. Because those grades might also reflect your teaching.
Teaching to the test is shameful. Boot camps are short-sighted and irresponsible. Sending practice sheets for homework is simply uncalled-for. Most parents don't want all of that for their children--they want them to enjoy school, gain confidence, and learn something.
Thank you so much for your passion, hard work and time you took to help students with Math! This is one subject that [my child] just cringed about and you changed that! I will not say she loves it but definitely enjoys it because of you! You made it so fun and I appreciate that.And I'll end on that.