Saturday, October 2, 2010

Teachers' Questions & Concerns about Assessment Results

Over the past few months Carolyn Gough, Secondary Language Arts Consultant for our school district, has crunched numbers, drawn conclusions, and shared information with middle school English and reading teachers. When she presents these various assessment results, some schools and teachers are delighted, while other are discouraged.

In her kind and professional manner, Carolyn helps educators recognize the areas for concern and then leads the group in addressing those problems by setting doable goals. Most leave her meetings feeling recommitted, but some well-meaning, hard-working teachers still feel dispirited.

In a recent message to Carolyn, one such teacher wrote: "I know I should take this as a great opportunity, but somehow I feel like I am a bad teacher. Yet, some of those classes had so many students who just didn't give a heck and would not try no matter what."

I doubt there is a teacher who has not felt this way, including Carolyn and me. Because teachers are often discouraged and overwhelmed with all that is expected, I want to share excerpts from my colleague's response to this dedicated veteran educator. Carolyn wrote the following:
I read your message and felt deeply touched by your sincerity and concern. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts with me and I want you to know that I completely understand how many factors go into test results. The last thing I want anyone to feel is discouraged about teaching. Teaching is demanding, hard work and I know that you and all teachers are trying to help students in all the ways you know how.

I think there are two fundamental messages I'm trying to communicate with the data I've shared:
    1. Looking at data can help us get a general picture of where we are and where students are in the context of the school, district, and state which can help us plan for instruction.
    2. As teachers we can and should always be asking ourselves, "What else can I do to improve student learning?" The focus really needs to shift away from whether or not we taught the material, to whether or not the students learned the material. If their scores are hinting that they aren't learning as much as we'd like them to, it's important to ask ourselves how we can help them in their learning. I maintain that there is no perfect teacher. Each one of us can always search for ways to adjust instruction to help students learn.
The hardest part about asking this question is that we have to open ourselves up and feel vulnerable as we search for the best ways to help students learn. But the more teachers reach out to one another and to others for ways to help students learn, the more they realize there is to learn, and the better teachers they become. Whether a 1st year teacher or a veteran, there is ALWAYS something else we can do to improve student learning. I'm hoping that we'll focus our efforts on those things.
As we talked Friday morning, [one of your colleagues] asked, "What else can we do?" I hope that all teachers would ask a similar question about his/her own teaching. Rather than get down about what has happened, look ahead at what else we can do to improve student learning. Some ideas for how we can accomplish this are to ...
    • ask for a consulting educator to come and observe you in action and to notice ways you can increase student learning;
    • make time to watch another teacher in action;
    • ask other teachers how they are teaching a particular part of the core;
    • participate in creating a curriculum map that matches the core so that we can understand what the core is truly asking of us and our students;
    • be sure you know which standard and objective your lessons are tied to in the core;
    • help students know what it is they are supposed to be learning from the core.
One of the things you do so well ... is that you are open to new ideas and are willing to do things differently to affect change. You are one of those veteran teachers who wants students to succeed and cares about their learning. I know that about you because you have always been an active listener who asks excellent questions in discussions. I know you are open because you were willing to send me an e-mail about your thoughts. You have a great attitude ... which is the key to refining instruction and looking closer at all the ways we can help improve student learning.