Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Matters: Scores?

In many respects it feels like scores take top priority in schools today?

What is your score as a teacher?

What is your score as a student?

If scores are dealt with using disrespect, they can have a dehumanizing affect.

What does it take to get good scores?

For some students, the good scores come easy. For other students, the good scores are difficult to reach. For teachers, the scores depend on many factors including teaching support, family support, classroom materials, time-on-task, and student numbers.

The scores are mainly based on ELA and math multiple choice and written responses, tests that in many ways are troubling to some for multiple reasons. To do well on scores also means that the curriculum for the most challenged in those areas may become lots and lots of same kind of teaching rather than the creative, project base learning that's enticing, engaging, and exciting for students--project/problem base learning that replicates the kind of work students will do later on in life, and the work that keeps students invested.

For young fourth graders in Massachusetts the scores depend on the ability to handwrite a very long draft and final story that takes about a day's work--that's a lot of writing for one day, and writing that is done in a way that few real-time writers embrace as most real time writers type a draft, let it simmer, edit, then publish with care. The standards in both ELA and math are broad and deep equaling more than a year's teaching for some children.

So with this reality in mind, what is a teacher to do?

I will continue my commitment this year to trying to get good scores and teach an engaging, interactive program too. It is challenging to do anything new as there is a lot of fear related to these scores and the practices that support them, but I'll go forward each day trying to do both--new and invigorating plus tried and true to reach scores and teach well too.

I will work with my grade-level team to share ideas, and teach children well. We have a dedicated team of teachers who are willing to share their ideas and focus.

I will remain mostly class- and team-centered as to do this work well takes focus, time, and care.

I will not see students as a "score" and continue to foster team, a love of learning, and academic mastery in child-centered, caring ways.

Can I achieve this goal?

What makes this more complicated is that my students' achievement is dependent on so many more than me, and there's lots that we can all do to help students achieve in schools including the following:
  • Lessen disruptions: We need thoughtful time-on-task to do our jobs well.
  • Interdisciplinary study: If specialists and others that serve our students employ some of the standards too that will help with scores. 
  • Keep classroom numbers and make-up reasonable: Think about students' needs and numbers when making class assignments. For example students at grade four, seven, and ten are responsible for long essays as part of their tests--this teaching takes lots of individual coaching, editing, and support--perhaps the teacher/student ratios for ELA should be lower at these grade levels so that teachers have time to coach writing well. 
  • Coach teachers too with care and support. Rather than making teachers  "numbers," use the best leadership practices to create team, shared investment, and optimal programming so that all are invested in the goal of getting good scores and teaching students well.
  • All hands on deck: As much as possible foster high-quality, time-on-task teaching and efforts with students with as many professional educators as possible.
  • Strategic, Targeted Efforts: Support teaching teams with their ideas and efforts to teach well which includes knowing students' needs through formative and summative assessment, strategies and adaptation, and worthy, engaging, productive learning experiences. 
  • Transparency and Accuracy: Report scores in timely, transparent, and accurate ways. Heresay and inaccurate score reporting will serve to create frustration, ineffective efforts, and lack of team. 
  • Feedback: Provide feedback regularly to foster student learning, family involvement, and growth.
  • Family Support: Regularly communicate goals, efforts, and coaching tips to families.
  • Teach the Standards: Know and teach all standards. The language of the standards for my grade level are rich, deep, worthy learning goals that can be embedded into engaging study. 
If used well, the scores can be a source of effective discussion, effort, and education.  However, if used with inaccuracy, lack of transparency, and disrespect, scores can serve to demean both children and educators thus creating schools that are unhappy, stressful, and ineffective.

Let's strike the right balance.