Saturday, March 22, 2014

Student Achievement: Goal Setting

In many ways, last fall, it became clear that many wanted students to do better.  Unhappy with overall State scores, there started to be a steady stream of emails, workshops, observations, and subtle notices sent to educators with respect to raising standardized test scores.

The reality is that I work in a terrific school system where children are well nurtured and generally score well, but some pockets of the school community were a few percentage points behind the target.

Now we're in testing season again. It's clear from students' attitudes that some of the new initiatives we put into place have boosted children's stamina, focus, and test readiness. It's also clear though that our students continue to represent a wide variety of readiness when it comes to standardized tests--after all, they are young children, and every teacher and parent knows that young children develop in various ways--it's not a "one size fits all" for all childhood growth and development.

Hence, where do we go from here?

I'm still committed to the goal of teaching so that students do well on test scores and broader, more holistic measures of learning success. I work in a community that devotes terrific time and financial support to the schools--a community where families make the time, and have the resources to care well for their children. I believe that we can embed the new standards with meaning into dynamic, student-centered learning experiences that garner success on standardized tests, and success for the broader, more interdisciplinary learning efforts that will prepare students for later learning and life.

With this in mind, I think we can better set goals and identify learning/teaching targets with efforts such as the following:
  1. When initial scores are reported in June, educators can make the time to identify the groups that scored well, and those that still struggled. At that time, while learning and teaching is fresh in our minds, we can list the reasons for both success and challenge, and questions to explore more over the summer months.
  2. Later when more scores return in late summer, we can once again review the success and challenges, and building on our spring list we can add more observations and questions.
  3. When school starts, we can set some initial goals based on the results, and any upcoming changes related to standardized tests and learning goals.  For example, we may transfer to a new testing system next year which will require some small changes in curriculum focus and timing.  I can imagine the goals we set to possibly include the following:
    • Continue with last year's writing efforts/program.
    • Look for ways to build greater stamina in students' attention and focused effort. 
    • Start multi-step math problem solving efforts earlier, and give those efforts greater time in the school week.
    • Employ Khan Academy efforts and other invigorating math tech earlier in the year for home study and in-class skill building to provide greater ongoing feedback.
    • Provide greater professional development in the area of (an identified area of need), an area most students seemed to struggle with. 
    • Revise the scope and sequence to include more ______, and less _________.
  4. Then, when State analytics are released, curriculum leaders can analyze our initial analysis and goals with the State notes in mind. The State analytics are detailed and offer glimpses of the data that we could not easily cull from our own, general review and reflections. At that point we can think deeply about the children who need greater and/or different efforts with regard to learning--we can problem solve around those needs possibly shifting services in ways that better meet the needs of those children individually, in small groups, and for the whole class.
As the testing season takes hold, it's time to think about the analysis to come when test scores are released--this is the time to create score review paths and analysis objectives. Starting the school year with an overview of what worked well, what we want to do better, and our overall vision and beliefs with regard to what we deem to be success for each child, grade level, and school is an invigorating, focused, and team building way to begin a year of scholarship and growth.

The detailed approach to teaching today, when analyzed well, has the potential to invigorate learning for each and every student. If not done well, conjecture and less thoughtful analysis can lead to efforts that diminish students to a test score rather than valued people with multiple skills, challenges, passions, and talents--the kind of people whose diverse profiles have the potential to create a dynamic, forward moving, happy community and world.