01 April 2008

The Impatience of Achievement

How much forward progress can we expect a school to make within a month? A year? Can we measure student achievement in terms of weeks...or do we need a broader time span to adequately assess any gains that are made? I wondered about this while reading Glimmers of Progress at a Failing School in a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times. It's about an elementary school in Newark which is now in its seventh year of being a "failing" school. There seems to be an abundance of anecdotal evidence that change is happening---but what will test scores show?

As I watch the day-to-day efforts of teachers and paraeducators to help support student learning, I think about how those tiny baby steps each session will eventually add up. The problem is, will anyone outside notice? A child receiving intensive interventions may double their score on progress monitoring tests, but still be within the range of intensive services. For kids who aren't yet able to meet the standards, it would appear that this type of progress is still worthy of recognition and celebration. It means the schools are on the right track. Change takes time. Schools didn't become failures overnight---and we can't expect that they will be exemplary at the snap of the fingers, either.

I worry about the staff who work so hard every day to help kids move forward. As a coach, I fret about their stamina---and how to nurture that---in the face of a world which doesn't recognize the little moves forward and just the big steps back. How do we make the fruits of their labours more tangible and easily recognized? What can we do to hold the impatience of achievement at bay?

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