I recently wrote a blog explaining what the CCSS is. I still stand by the opinion that standards are not a bad thing. In arguments against the CCSS, I believe high stakes testing – or the use of the resulting data – is often the root of the concerns. I could write about this topic for pages, but in an effort to keep it short, I’ll focus on one specific complaint: students being seen as a number. I’ll put myself even further out on a branch and say that I don’t completely disagree with summative testing. In our state, it’s SBA season. In your state, it might be PARCC season. Regardless, the data we gain from these assessments can be valuable to teachers. However, if there is one point I must get across, it is that the score any given child receives on a high stakes test does not define them as a learner or person.
I’d like to share the stories of three students close to my heart (names have been changed). Some of the kids’ stories take place during the time of the MSP (another high stakes test Washington state used prior the SBA), however the message is the same.
Julie was born in the United States, learned to speak Ukrainian as a first language and qualified for ELL services through 3rd grade. She is consistently considered an intensive reader by all measures of fluency and a benchmark reader by all measures of comprehension. She is hardworking throughout her entire day and earns the highest effort grades possible year after year. Her daily work and classroom assessments show understanding of all content to levels of high rigor, but only a result of her keen awareness of the help she may need and her willingness to ask for assistance in the most loveable way possible. Teachers bend over backwards when she needs anything and she, in return, never lets any of us down. On her 4th grade MSP, she scored L4 in all areas. She focused the entire time, was the last to finish each test, and had a serious attitude about her results. I am convinced the learning does not come easily for Julie, but her incredible maturity, positive attitude, and study skills help her navigate our school system with great success. However, until I met Julie in my 4th grade class, she had been placed in the most intensive reading intervention groups each year, due to her fluency scores.
Paul, a Spanish-speaking ELL student has grown some as an English speaker, but has not acquired the language nearly as quickly as his peers. He started kindergarten as a L1 in ELL and as a 4th grader was an L2. All of his daily work showed Paul needed re-teaching of even the most basic skills. Paul was reading at the 1st grade level in 4th grade, with great inaccuracies and slow fluency. He struggled to write anything on the paper in writing. And in math, his basic addition facts were erroneous. Problem solving resulted in giving up and by 4th grade I was seeing some bullying behaviors from Paul on the playground. When the MSP came around, I was shocked to see Paul scored a L3 (passing) in reading, a L1 in writing, and a L2 in math. While I was proud of the progress he had made with incredible intervention, Paul is still 2-3 grade levels behind to this day. Because Paul passed the MSP in reading, he was placed in benchmark reading groups in 5th grade and did not receive reading interventions.
Dana is an English speaking student, with a supportive family. While quiet and reserved, Dana’s dedication to her learning does not go unnoticed. She is a capable learner that frequently had mastered grade level material before it was presented. She excels in enrichment groups, both in math and ELA. Daily assignments, benchmark assessments, and performance tasks place Dana in the highest percentile of her peers. While I don’t believe she is without adversity, I feel comfortable saying that Dana finds school ‘easy,’ especially in relation to her peers. We supplement Dana’s curriculum with enrichments at school and her family finds incredible project-based learning opportunities for her in the community. On her 4th grade SBA, she scored a L4 in ELA and a L1 in math. Several conversations have taken place about Dana’s math score and as a staff, we have no answers. Maybe she had a problem with friends that day. Maybe her parents got in a fight. Maybe she just made some serious mistakes. We don’t know, but we do know her performance was an outlier. As a result of her scores, she was placed in intervention math courses in 5th grade.
Here’s the thing with all three of these kids. I work with dedicated, knowledgeable, and downright incredible colleagues. We use an effective PLC model in my district. Data is tracked and discussed as parts of each student. Due to these high-yield collaboration strategies, all three of these kids had their 5th grade programs adapted immediately. Without knowing the kids, decisions had to be made to start the year, but as a staff we fixed these errors without lost time. But what if the story stopped there and their groupings weren’t changed in 3-5 days?
That’s where one of the problems lie with high-stakes testing. If a student is viewed as a singular test score, their instructional plans cannot be accurate. You see, Julie still needs fluency work. She needs to be monitored closely to ensure academic language does cause her deficits that could slip through the cracks due to her ability to cover up struggles. However, she’s a capable student deserving of a challenge. David will not be successful in middle school at his current levels. He has significant work to do in reading and we will work tirelessly to continue his growth. He passed the MSP, and honestly, unfairly. While it seems exciting for him, if his learning needs are not met as a result of this, we’re doing him an even bigger disservice. Dana has given no indication that she needs remediation in math. She needs to be challenged to grow as a math learner.
So how do I recommend using SBA scores?
1 – Look at every single student as an individual. Each student has classroom evidence, grade level assessment scores, rubric scores of performance, a family dynamic, culture, previous school experiences, mental and physical health, and more that comprises their academic picture. Spend the time to see the whole picture of every student with every skill. Sure, student SBA scores are a little piece of the puzzle. And that’s it – a little piece of the puzzle.
2 – Look for patterns for your own instructional growth. As a teacher, I can look at my class, grade level and school data over time. Do we see strands that we consistently score lowly in? Have we made growth with certain demographics of students? Did we see changes in data when we changed instructional practices or materials? Answer these kinds of questions and more. If you’re seeing these trends across different data sources, make some instructional changes to serve your students better.
3 – Track student growth. Are individual students or classes of students showing growth or decline over time? Consider how programs and/or instruction might change based on these trends.
Your Julies, Pauls, and Danas deserve supportive and comprehensive analysis that leads to high-yield instruction. And so do mine. After all, students are not numbers.
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.