Thursday, November 16, 2017

Math Focus: Positive Growth

MA educators receive reports that depict growth.
In Massachusetts students get a growth score related to their academic performance. This year those scores were not published for parents since it's the first year of a revised MCAS state testing program, but educators did receive those scores. Essentially the growth score compares students to other like students, and rates their growth. I have studied these scores carefully over the years and have found that these scores, overall, demonstrate some important correlations with regard to instruction, attention, practice, and teacher-student relationships.

Students who get the best growth scores generally demonstrate the following attributes:
  • Regular practice
  • Positive teacher-student relationships
  • Pedagogy that matches the students' learning needs, strengths, and challenges
  • Good use of at-home and in-school technology
  • Multi-modal lessons that focus on visual models, problem solving, collaborative work, independent exercises/tests
  • Regular progress monitoring with reliable tools
  • Extra, targeted supports in math
  • Explicit focus on growth mindset, asking questions, learning-to-learn behaviors, and growth over specific knowledge or scores--the attitude that we're all on the learning journey and our goal is to continually progress
  • Positive family-school collaboration
  • At-home tech access and use with positive practice venues
  • regular attendance at school
  • basic needs met
When I have seen less growth, I have noticed the following:
  • less positive student-teacher relationship
  • less regular practice
  • less targeted, positive support
  • impactful challenging life events also affect this growth 
Why do these scores matter?

When students achieve, their confidence and knowledge, skill, and concept foundation grow. This is positive for later learning. Parents also relax when they receive score reports that demonstrate meeting or exceeding expectations. 

I believe that all scores have to be evaluated with the whole child in mind. In no year do all children demonstrate optimal growth. There are always some who demonstrate less growth, and in these cases some children do meet or exceed expectations, but some do not. Life events affect these scores too--when children face troubling or upsetting life events, their growth is generally impacted. That's why it's optimal to provide children with steady, loving, and predictable routines as much as possible at school, at home, and in the community. Yet we can't plan for all of life's events, and that's to be expected.

While many find faults with standardized testing, I continue to believe that streamlined standardized testing can offer valuable information if used to develop schools, not demean teachers and schools. For example, we can't ignore the economic correlations with test scores. Students in schools and communities that face greater economic challenges have lower scores. That should point the state in the direction of better economic support for those schools so they have the conditions for excellence. I work in a school that does have conditions for excellence, and generally our scores are good. That doesn't mean there isn't room for growth though. Our challenge is to use the "conditions for excellence" that we have in ways that translate into positive growth for all of our students. Conditions such as highly qualified teachers and assistants, substantial technology with one-to-one computers, good time for collegial meetings and collaboration, many resources, and a solid, positive infrastructure for teaching well are attributes that every school needs to foster success. I also believe that every child deserves reasonable class sizes so they get the attention they deserve, and I believe that in areas that are economically challenged, class sizes should not exceed 12-15. That would spell significant success if the other conditions for success were available too. The investment in our schools now will spell greater peace and success for society later on. 

As I think about growth, I am thinking about how I can work with my team to invite students to grow with a positive attitude and regular success. I will focus on the attributes at the top of the page to reach this result. If you have other attributes to add, please do. I am very interested in this journey. Onward.