Monday, September 21, 2015

Zero miles to empty

Zero miles to empty!

That's what my car said. But I kept on driving.

With a message like that one would think that my car stopped immediately - out of gas! Surprisingly, I traveled 23 more miles before I pulled into a gas station to fill up my tank.

Data - even seemingly unambiguous, hard data - has wiggle room. There is always a difference between what is "observed" and what is "true."

In my car there is a difference between what I observed - zero miles to empty - and what was true - I was able to go at least 23 miles more.

The same principle holds true in standardized assessment. The score a child receives on a standardized test is an "observed" score. It is not the "true" score. Test theory holds that one can never know the true score. What we can do is try and create assessments that can get us close to a true score.

But in the end we have to be content with the understanding that any assessment gives us an observed score that might be higher or lower than a person's true ability.

That is why I am so dismayed that the Michigan legislature is considering House Bill (HB) 4822 which would require mandatory retention in 3rd grade for students who do not score at the 3rd grade level on the Michigan state assessment. Specifically it states the following:

If a pupil enrolled in grade 3 in a school district or public school academy is rated one full grade level or more behind in reading, as determined by the department based on the reading portion of the grade 3 state English language arts assessment the Board of the school district of Board of Directors of the public school academy in which the pupil is enrolled shall ensure that the pupil is not enrolled in grade 4 until . . .

This sounds good in theory. We should not promote students until they demonstrate that they have learned. But no assessment gives us a "true" score. Assessments give us an "observed" score. The observed score gives us one indication of a student's ability. But it certainly and clearly does not give us a completely accurate indication of a student's ability.

We asked parents in our district if mandatory retention was a good idea. These parents are not testing experts. They probably could not win a debate that was discussing the merits of testing theory. But they were overwhelmingly dubious of a policy that relied on mandatory retention.

Teachers and principals, those who work with students each and every day, know and understand that students develop differently. Artificially imposing a mandatory score to move on from 3rd grade is bad policy.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I hear voices

I hear voices.

Lots of voices - everyday.

My concern is whose voices am I hearing? Are they adult voices? Are they student voices? Are they voices filled with compassion and questions? Are they voices filled with arrogance and conceit?

Lately I have become more interested in the voices of students. What are they saying? What do I hear when I listen to them?

This week was the first week of school. As I visited schools around my district I heard lots of student voices. They were excited to be back in school, to see friends, to be with each other. Students wanted to talk.

Did we let them?

Or were we so concerned about teaching the curriculum and covering the standards that we did not let them speak?

I know that students come to school to learn. We only have a limited amount of time each day, each week, each month, each school year with our students. Time is precious.

But in our haste to ensure that we do our jobs do we become so concerned with our agenda that we never listen to our students' agendas?

In our haste to be good teachers is the only voice in the classroom our voice or do we make room and make time to listen to the voices of our students?