12 March 2010

Do the Right Thing

I listened to lots of stories at the 2010 ASCD Annual Conference. Some were shared by presenters. Some were shared by neighbor attendees. A few were things I picked up while eavesdropping at meals or walking behind people in the halls of the convention center. With 10,000 attendees, there are no opportunities for anyone to be lonely or private. (I was even treated to someone's deep meaningful cell phone conversation about the Common Core Standards while in the bathroom.) And really, that is the point of a conference---to be able to get together with others who have a similar interest and share ideas.

What I noticed most at this conference was the number of stories about teachers and administrators working their asses off to do the right thing---or, at least, the expected thing. While it is not a surprise to hear about the number of hours required to plan, prepare, instruct, assess, and/or remediate, what was a surprise was the lengths some people were going to. I am sure that the results can only be beneficial for kids, but I would not reach the same conclusion for the adults involved.

In fact, one of my big take-aways from the event was a collective sense of desperation about assessment, grading, and data. The educators present cared deeply for students and for doing the very best that they could for kids---but I had the impression that no one thought that they had the “right” answer or were doing things well. I find that hard to believe. I find it distressing that there is no “good enough” in these situations. I understand that no child should be left behind. I applaud the efforts that go into ensuring every student has the opportunity to learn. But what is missing from the whole equation is a way to honor progress. I talked with a teacher from Alaska whose Title I school has been in AYP for five years now. She mentioned the huge gains the school has made in that time…and yet in the eyes of the state and feds, it’s not good enough. It is apparently not even worth recognizing. I find that appalling.

Thomas Guskey and others have called for similar measures on report cards for individual students. That there is more that happens in a grading period than just the final mark---there is progress and growth along the way. A gifted student who is already above the standard should still be able to show progress. The same is true for a struggling student who may have made great gains, but is still not at standard by the end of the grading period. There are examples for every student in between---and yet almost no examples of reporting for students or schools for this factor. I hurt for them all.

I’m never sure what to do about things like this other than to just keep talking about them and hope that at some point, the people in the positions to do something will choose to do the right thing.


hschinske said...

What do you think of the MAP as a way to assess progress? I had high hopes that it might solve the problem of how to document the existence of teachers who do amazing things for below-level students, but who can't get them quite up to grade level in a year, so in a WASL-based system they never get any credit.

The Science Goddess said...

I'm not so sure it's a "tool" problem...at least in terms of the assessments (e.g. MAP, WASL...) used. I think it's a problem with the accountability system at the state and federal levels. There's nothing built into their reporting requirements that allows for progress to be considered---it's either you made AYP for that group of kids or you didn't. There's no room for honoring improvement.

Jenny said...

I knew Guskey was a good guy. Now if we could just get the right folks to pay attention to Guskey, you, others making this argument.