It’s All About the Data.

At least that’s what it seems like.

I swear, I feel like my whole year has been centered more around data than around building relationships with my students. It’s all about how the district is doing and how the school is doing and how my class is doing.

I’ll be honest, statistically speaking my class isn’t doing so hot. Guess that means if I was being paid on merit I wouldn’t be making too much (or I’d probably be fired).

To me, this is absurd. Not because I would probably get fired if I was getting a merit-based paycheck, but because none of this focuses on the students, and they are the reason I chose this profession.

I didn’t want to be a teacher because of the bureaucratic politics or the disengaged (or overly-engaged) parents or the piles of paperwork. I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to inspire kids to become lifelong learners and to love every minute of it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how inspiring I am when I have to give my third graders bubble sheets every nine weeks to test their “skills.” Multiple choice tests aren’t even developmentally appropriate for third graders if you asked me, and frankly I care more about whether or not my students fully understand a concept rather than if they can just pick a letter to color in on a scantron sheet.

I want my students to be able to explain to me how Roald Dahl develops his characters in his books, and then compare the characters to one another. I want my students to explain to me step-by-step how they were able to divide 13 brownies between 3 people so that each person gets an equal amount. I want my students to explain to me how the human body works interdependently.

Is any of that going to fit on a bubble sheet?

I just had my reading groups read through a recent TIME For Kids article called “The Future of Testing.” It discusses that their tests will one day be taken on tablets and computers, and not all of the questions will be multiple choice.

I suppose that could be seen as a step in the right direction, but why is everyone so focused on all of this data?!

Yes, data can guide instruction, and that’s great. I want to know what my kids are struggling with so I can create engaging lessons that will meet their needs, and I see how this data does that, but everyone just seems so concerned with data that they don’t care about progress.

For my class, progress is a pretty big deal. One-third of my students do not speak English as their first language, and all of those students came to me reading below grade level. Another one-third of my students come from difficult home situations and have outside hindrances affecting their education, and they came to me reading below grade level, too. The final one-third of my students came to me reading on or above grade level.

So what’s a teacher supposed to do? I work hard and I’m a good teacher, but my students aren’t performing. Am I supposed to work a miracle and take a child reading on a first grade reading level and get him on a fourth grade reading level by June? Is that even possible? No wonder teachers and administrators cheat! Look at Atlanta — how sad it is to hear about so many educators fudging numbers so they can look better. And how about the alleged test scandals during Rhee’s administration as chancellor of DC Public Schools?

I can personally say that this strong push with data has hurt my self-esteem as a new teacher. I look at my data and see red and orange and I see failure on my part as a teacher. I see that I’m not doing my job well enough to get these kids to where they need to be.

Is that what we want? Do we want to be so focused on merit-based pay and good numbers and more tests that we crush the spirits of bright-eyed new teachers and demean the job of educator to pencil sharpener and paper-passer-outer?

To be honest, I’m tired of hearing the word data — I want to hear people talking progress.

I have a student whose first year in the United States is this year. She came in speaking very little English and was only reading 13 words per minute with 65% accuracy. I progress monitored her last week, and now she’s reading 65 words per minute with 98% accuracy. How hard she’s worked and how far she’s come since September! Unfortunately, that doesn’t get to go on her report card.

All of my students have made some kind of progress since they came to me in August. Each one of my students is a higher reader now than they were at the beginning of the year. They can do multiplication and fractions and they know about plants and the human body — they’ve been incredible! It just breaks my heart that I have to quantify their achievements with a number that isn’t a true indicator of their progress as a learner.

As my first year of teaching begins to close and the End of Grade tests draw near, I can’t help but contemplate these things. My hope is that as teachers, we’re able to come together to encourage one another in our endeavors so that we do not become faint of heart — this is a battle worth fighting.

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