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Don’t Let the Numbers Get in the Way!

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Students across the nation have probably taken their state assessment by now. Part of my position as an instructional coach is to assist schools in their analysis of this data as well other forms of summative and formative assessments. Over the years, we’ve worked together to create user-friendly templates so that teachers can begin the important task of the analysis in order to meet the needs of their students. While many schools are getting ready to close for another year, they may also be busy reviewing their data with colleagues and their students as a part of the reflective and school improvement process.

One thing is true about any standardized test in “the NCLB age.” Some students were proficient and some were not. Some students in each category made growth and others did not. It is time to reflect on the “whys”, but let’s not forget that these scores are only one small piece of who each student is. We can not let these numbers define the child or be used to determine their future.

Case in point – I’ve spent time analyzing the following ITBS data. Here is a student who is not proficient on any subtest. She would have been one that would not have to help her school reach the 100% proficient mark of NCLB. Yet she went on to be successful. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education, a Master’s degree in teaching and an administrative PK-12 license. How do I know – these are my 6th and 7th Grade ITBS scores. Am I proud of them? Not really. But, I’m proud of the person I have become despite these scores. Many signs in my K-12 schooling pointed toward steering me away from pursuing a college education. School was difficult. Test taking was a nightmare. I turned into quite the “test phobic” extending into adulthood. But, I did not let these numbers get in the way and define me!

I knew my dreams and passions. I saw myself as a teacher ever since the 4th grade. I loved kids. When I babysat neighborhood kids, I planned activities to engage them in learning. (I earned my 50 cents an hour!) A few of these kids I babysat went on to be teachers themselves! I was better at “playing school” than going to school (even though I did love going to school). I take pride in the fact that one of my students (in my “basement classroom” – complete with desks and a chalkboard) was my younger sister. She went on to be valedictorian of her class!

We have to keep these standardized test scores in perspective. We can’t let them define a student or how we teach! To narrow down our curriculum and focus to just what is “on the test” takes away the inquiry, passion, and joy of learning. We need to continue to focus on the whole child and their needs. We need to continue to realize that one-size fits all approaches are not the answer. We need to continue to expand our techniques of student engagement and understanding the learners of today, not the learners of yesterday. We need to continue to expand our curriculum to include authentic learning.

Assessment scores can be helpful, but only as helpful as the dialogue that follows. I’ve heard of and witnessed amazing results when data teams are formed. Teams of colleagues coming together to not only to analyze student progress but their own. They are asking questions about their own teaching practices and gaining insight from colleagues, administrators and instructional coaches to ensure that what they are doing in the classroom is meeting the students needs, well beyond the standardized test. They’ve replaced the words “the students can’t” with “what CAN I do to make sure the students CAN!”

Some of these teams have been developed formally, such as the current work in Iowa with the Authentic Intellectual Work approach. In other cases, principals have formed grade level leadership teams where the principal and grade level teachers meet monthly to analyze student progress and share approaches that are making a difference. Other teams have developed informally. I know of one group of grade level teachers that meet weekly, on their own time or common planning time, to support each other and the needs of their students.

Another group of supportive teachers continually strengthening practice to engage students can be found on Twitter. It has been amazing to watch these teachers come together through individual tweets and more structured Twitter chats to share approaches, practices, reflections and student successes and challenges. Just this evening I took part in the #elemchat. I’ve signed on to be a moderator. I enjoyed learning from the teachers as they shared how they are using social media in the classroom. Social media is giving students a voice. They are reading and writing more than ever before.

The more you read, the better you get at it. The better you get at it, the more you like it. And the more you like it, the more you will do it.

A book I continue to recommend to educators is Mindset by Carol Dweck. It is the book that launched my ideas about blogging – a way to continually focus on a growth mindset.

Dr. Dweck reminds us that our mindset about how we and others learn can profoundly influence how we interact with ourselves and each other. There are two basic mindsets.

  • People with fixed-mindsets believe that their talents personalities are inborn, carved in stone.
    • What does this mean for educators and how they perceive their students?
      • Do we let they let the numbers get in the way?
      • Do they have perceived expectations for students with specific “labels?”
      • Do they use the words, “The students can’t…?”
      • Do they continually explain poor performance on the student, rather than seeking new ways to reach the student?
      • Do they focus on students’ grades rather than on student effort?
  • People with growth-mindsets believe that success is a result of effort as much as or more than aptitude.
    • What does this mean for educators and how they perceive their students?
      • Do they have high expectations of all students and assist in helping them reach those goals?
      • Do they look past the “numbers” and move to determining approaches to meet the students’ needs – even if these approaches mean changing the way things have always been done?
      • Do they help students realize what they can do, rather than what they can’t?
      • Do they acknowledge students’ efforts rather than abilities?
      • Do they avoid “labeling” students?
      • Do they encourage risk-taking and challenging tasks with all students?
      • Do they help students value and focus on learning rather than earning a grade?

Dr. Dweck has summarized her research-based ideas about intelligence as, “… people are, to a large extent, in charge of their own intelligence. Being smart – and staying smart – is not just a gift, not just a product of their genetic good fortune. It is very much a product of what they put into it. It means that being smart is a long process of self-development and self-discovery.”

So, let’s not let the numbers get in the way! One test should not define who we (or our students) are!

How do you help your students discover their growth mindset?

How do you guide students to love learning, value effort, and persist in the face of obstacles?

Let’s learn from each other!

Photo credit: cc licensed flickr photo shared by roswellsgirl

Categories: Data Analysis, Growth Mindset, Instructional Coaching, Instructional Strategies, Leadership
Tags: , , ,

6 Comments to Don’t Let the Numbers Get in the Way!

  1. Fran
    May 22, 2011 1:05 pm

    Kathy,
    As usual, a very thought-provoking blog! It’s so easy to say that the “numbers” tell a story about the learner. But any number is just a number. It doesn’t tell us whether a student put forth 100% effort. It doesn’t tell us if a student ended up skipping an answer. It doesn’t tell us if the student ended up in the wrong section of the answer sheet. I’ve seen those things happen to students. How each teacher responds to those issues defines the teacher and the teacher’s role – NOT the student!!!

    NCLB Tests have done a remarkable job of “sorting”; however, teachers are better suited to “sorting” and, of course, providing instruction to meet the instructional needs of the students.

    Numbers produced by a scoring machine = not needed!

    • Kathy Perret
      May 25, 2011 9:03 pm

      Thanks, Fran! You are so right. The “numbers” don’t tell the whole story. I had the opportunity to meet with a 5th grade teacher and one of his students yesterday. He wanted his student to share her good news with me. Last year she was “considered” not proficient. This year she scored in the 80th %ile in reading and math. The reason – she admitted that last year she just filled in the bubbles and didn’t even try. She was beaming about her accomplishment. Her own self-confidence will blossom to assist her in so many ways!

      Kathy

  2. Paula Naugle
    May 22, 2011 2:46 pm

    Hi Kathy,
    Thank you for this excellent reminder that test scores are not the whole picture of a student. Also, thanks for being brave enough to post your own scores as an example. Mine would show a similar trend. Reading was not my strong suit during my formative educational years, but today I am an avid reader (still slow however).

    I received the results of our state test for the 4th graders I teach this past Wednesday. I looked at them with a different eye this year than I would have in the past. Yes, I will disaggregate the scores over the summer, and use them to strengthen my curriculum, but I will not let those scores be the only thing that defines my students as learners, or me as their teacher/facilitator. I will continue to provide experiences for my students that broaden them as learners and teach them how to be better global citizens.

    • Kathy Perret
      May 25, 2011 9:06 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Paula! You are right, we can’t ignore the scores. The scores can lead to evidence of what may be missing in the areas of curriculum.

      Your students are extremely fortunate! Your mission of broadening them as learners and global citizens is a worthy one. Narrowing a curriculum to what’s on a test would never let you accomplish that!

      Kathy

  3. Mrs. Phares
    May 23, 2011 10:22 am

    Hi Kathy, What a great post! I enjoyed the fact that shared your own scores. What a way to connect with your readers.

    You talk about your “test phobia.” I believe that teachers also experience “test phobia” from the other side of the desk. I have witnessed now for several years stressed out teachers who let “test scores” get in the way of their amazing teaching talents. Can I blame them? No..we all know that the pressure is on when it comes to test scores. What a shame that even though we (they) absolutely know better, we (they) continue to make them more important then they really are!

    I can’t wait for the summer! The first thing on my list is to read “Mindset”. Sounds like a great book! Thanks Kathy!

    • Kathy Perret
      May 25, 2011 9:10 pm

      Thanks, Robin! Loved our take on “teacher’s test phobia.” Your are so right. These types of “pressure assessments” have caused teachers stress and and an over-dependance on their importance. Frequent formative assessments along the way to guide instruction is a better use of time!

      Kathy

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