13 February 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

I spent the day with a group of 7th grade teachers. We had to work through a lot of process in terms of where they need to go with their Curriculum, but the most interesting part of the day was when they started thinking about how to identify highly capable kids to cluster in some classes next year. We do have identified gifted kids, but nothing in that process really tells us if they are highly capable in science.

I showed the group some raw data on their current batch of kids---just scores related to reading, math, and science with no names or demographic data. They used it to play with their criteria, then we added in demographic factors. My fear was that we'd end up only identifying white girls. We did end up with a lotta whities when our criteria were more narrow. We adjusted one more time and then they thought they were ready to see the names of the kids they'd identified. For three of the four teachers, the list reflected the students they had in mind. The other teacher looked at the list with a bit of horror: all of the students identified from her list were D or F students in her class.


I had started prying the lid off of the standards-based grading can of worms earlier in the day. We'd already talked about how grades do or don't reflect what we value as teachers. We talked about "teacher pleaser" kids---kids who know how to play the game and earn a grade, whether or not they learn anything. But the teacher was confronted with an ugly reality this afternoon. Here were a whole batch of kids who, on paper, should have been just as successful as they were in other classrooms...but weren't.

At first, the teacher blamed the kids. I agree that some responsibility for the educational process is on the backs of the kids...but if a teacher has no other reason than that for poor student performance, that dog doesn't hunt. This teacher thought for a minute and said aloud that perhaps whatever she's doing isn't reaching those kids...and was very quiet thereafter.

It will be interesting to watch this teacher this spring. She is a mass of contradictions. I'll be watching if she can hear what the data are telling her...and more importantly, responding to it.

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