Last spring, I decided to volunteer to be a guinea pig with my district for the new Washington State Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP). I attended six days of training over the summer, and an additional four days during the fall. With ten days of professional development, I felt I had a good grasp of how I would be evaluated under the new system.
Then, came the meeting request from my principal in December.
“Please meet with me regarding the COI,” read the email. What the heck was the COI? My principal explained the COI was the Cycle of Inquiry. I needed to show student growth over the course of a unit proven by a pre-test and post-test. My face blanched. This was never discussed during my ten days of PD. What would I use for evidence? I would have to whip together a pre-test and post-test tied to the Common Core standards and hope my students could demonstrate tangible growth.
Two other members of my 10th grade PLC were in the same boat. Based upon a common assessment we developed at the beginning of the year, we determined our students struggled in tracking a dominant theme throughout a novel. We decided to focus our instruction on the Prometheus myth and Doppelganger themes in Frankenstein. One of the honors teachers in my PLC developed a final exam. After perusing the test questions, I felt nervous. Would my students be able to pass it? I always believed I was a good teacher, but now I would have to show data to prove it.
I hastily created a comprehension quiz as a pre-test that asked similar questions to my PLC’s post-test. My students averaged 60%. I met with my principal again. He wanted to me to predict how much growth my students would demonstrate over the course of the COI. He also wanted to know which class would be my focus group. Selecting a class was the easy part. My 4th period class had a diverse mix of students. In addition, they had a high attendance rate and consistently turned in their homework. As far as my growth goal goes, I guessed 10%, without any sense if my students were capable of reaching that percentage. I hoped, I prayed I could lead my students over the hump.
Throughout the unit, I grouped the kids in annotation groups based upon ability. We annotated for theme in each chapter. Some days I would model this for them. Other days, they worked in groups, or they annotated on their own. I let them use their annotation guide on the final exam. My justification for this was twofold: first, I would reward them for consistently doing their work, and secondly, I wanted to them to get in the habit of annotating as they read, something my students would eventually have to do to pass the SBAC.
At a recent PLC meeting, each member of my group shared our students’ percentages of growth. I had scored all the exams, but I had not had time to analyze my data. We went around the circle and shared our results.
One honors teacher’s students improved by 14%, the other honors teacher’s students improved by 11%. The last teacher, who teaches core English like myself, also achieved 11%. Then, it was my turn. My co-workers beat their hands on the table creating a spontaneous drum roll. I slowly peeked at the data sheet. My students, as a whole improved by 13%, and my focus group by over 15%, with an average score of 75.7% on the exam. Collectively, they met standard. I excitedly shouted “How about ‘em teaching apples,” as if I were Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Then, I gave an enthusiastic fist pump for good measure. My co-workers cheered. My principal walked our direction with a stern look on his face. He glared and ordered me to stick out my hand. I blushed and reluctantly obeyed. He then, proceeded to slap me a high five.
When my principal and I met later at the end of the COI, he asked what I learned. I told him I learned that tracking student data demonstrates good instruction proven by tangible student growth. He agreed, and added the COI raises expectations for everyone: principals, teachers, and students.
Next year, I hope to take the Cycle of Inquiry a step further. I will ask my students to make goals for themselves after a unit pre-test. If they meet their goal (or exceed it), I will hand them an apple and tell them the story about what happened during the PLC meeting. Then, I will lead them in a chorus of fist pumps.