Saturday, April 20, 2013

"It Appears to Me that the Graph Has Come and Stolen All the Laughs"

I have serious reservations about all the emphasis that we have to put on the various standardized tests that our students must take these days.  However, yesterday was our TQ day and a major focus of this day was looking our Iowa Assessment Data.  After taking this test for the last two years, I still have the opinion that it is not as aligned with the Iowa Core as it supposedly should be.  Even though most of us agree that there are so many factors that affect our students' test scores and we shouldn't be held 100% accountable for their results, most of us can still find some value in these tests.  Yesterday, we weren't able to do item analysis, so we could really see what kinds of concepts our students are missing or getting correct, but we were given another tool this year.  A tool that we have been looking for especially because our students have had the question about how do I know if I am improving on the test?  What should my goal be?  We couldn't really answer because we didn't have anything that told us what a year's growth is (do still know how this is calculated no, but I at least have something to share with the students).

For the better part of yesterday, I analyzed 5th-8th grade data for the science test.  What I tracked was their current cut score, their percentile rank, expected increase for the following test year, and growth from the previous year. The information we were given, showed how to take the percentile rank for that year and use a chart to find what the expected growth for the next year should be in terms of the cut score.  I plan to share this information with my science students so that can see their progress.

As many of your probably know, schools are supposed to crank out increasingly more and more proficient students.  I think this year it was something like 93%.  That is a depressing and scary number.  It is just not realistic given what we know about people's natural abilities, effort level, and a host of other variables.  There are always going to be people who pick up things quickly. those who take longer, and those that might not ever master a particular skill.  I don't see anything wrong with that.  It's part of life. I'm not saying that we shouldn't continue to help students that struggle-we should.  But I don't think it is appropriate to expect proficiency for all in every subject.  We are all made differently with different gifts.

 So when you look at the 93%, it is very easy to get down on yourself and say that it is impossible.  Through our work yesterday, I was able to see a picture that made me feel a lot better.  No, our students didn't meet the magic number.  But when I was able to look at each individual student for science, I found that there were very few that didn't grow at all.  Not all met the year's growth expectation, but they grew!  Of course, there were a few puzzling cases of major decline.  Those are the kinds of results that make you ask if the student was ill, tired, stressed, not focused, in a bad mood, apathetic, etc.  I was amazed to see the growth in some of my ELL students that are still acquiring their English language skills.  It was really awesome to see what has happened over a year.

I don't attribute the growth all to myself.  Again, there are too many outside variables.  The math,  ELA, and social studies teachers contribute to the growth of students.  Our ESL and Special Education teachers contribute to the growth.  Our interventionists and paraprofessionals and countless others contribute to their growth.  And, and, AND!!!!  The students themselves contribute to their growth-how open are they to learning and putting effort in?

I am still troubled by the emphasis on testing and the potential ramifications, but this is how it's going to be for a while, and I'm going to choose to use the data as motivation for myself and students.  How can I use this in my planning for next year?  How can I support individual students that excel, that are doing "okay", and that are struggling?  That's the big question I'm going to focus next year.

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