Measuring Growth

Since the “Race to the Top” initiative/competition the education world is all a buzz about measuring student growth. Many states have adapted teacher evaluation models or are creating models that incorporate student growth into how teachers are going to be evaluated. I find it quite odd/disturbing that the most dominant measure of student growth is from Standardized tests.

So I spent some time thinking about growth. I take all 3 of my children to the doctor for an annual check up. The doctor measures their growth: Height, Weight, size of head, potty trained, talking, etc. The data is then placed on a graph and plotted against the “standard’ or norm. My boys height and weight are well above the 100% mark, but they have speech deficits. Are they ahead or behind? or are the just moving at different rates than the average child? My daughter is not above 100% but around 70% on height and weight and she speaks at level. Should I be concerned that she is not at 100%? No since 50% is average or the middle of the “bell” curve.

How does this relate to education?

1. Are we measuring many different skills and judging a composite? Not from where I sit. I see us focusing on 2 basic skills of math and English Language Arts.

2. How much growth is expected? I keep hearing we need to have a years worth of growth in a year. What is that? 100%? Even trees don’t grow the same amount each year. Anyone who has cut down a tree and counted the rings knows this.

So what do we do?

Hard question to answer but lets STOP measuring growth against an average which was calculated using a bell curve where the expectation is 50%  of students will score above average  and 50%  below! Half the teachers will fail on this model!

We also need to expand the model to include all aspects of growth: The PIES.

Physical growth: are students become coordinated, stronger and more fit. – This might help with the current obesity issues in the US.

Intellectual growth: are the students become better thinkers and problems solvers.

Emotional growth: are the students better able to cope emotionally and hand different emotional situations.

Social growth: are the students gaining social skills that will help them in employment.

The current systems are only focusing on a student’s intellectual growth. Teachers have an impact in all 4 areas. Students need to achieve certain base levels of growth in each area. All growth needs to be taken into account if Student Growth is going to be used in teacher evaluations.

I have personally observed a student grow in social and emotional areas but not in intellectual. In time due to the social and emotional growth in one year the intellectual growth will come. As a society we can not just focus in one area. As educational reform moves forward, remember that All growth is important.

We don’t judge parents when their child does not walk, talk or reach a certain height due to the date on a calendar. Lets make sure we do the same for teachers!

All students can learn, just at different rates and in different ways!


Work Load

Today at the end of the school day, I stood talking to my principal in the hallway before the final bell. I asked how her day was going and she replied “Good for being my first full day at school this week!” It took a moment for it to set in, being Friday afternoon, me ready to head home for the weekend. WOW Friday and the Principal has only been in school 1 full day.

Let me start by saying I have a great principal, she works hard, backs her teachers and knows curriculum. She is a “lead” learner. She tries to model best practices as much as possible. Was she sick this week? NO. She was scheduled out for meetings, in-services and those “other duties” that come with the awesome task of working in a school. Was this her plan? No, but it was only luck she was here today, her meeting was canceled. Is this just a freak occurrence? Not from my vantage point. I see it with our best leaders and teachers pulled from there instructional duties to other tasks.

Let’s start by talking about Principals. From my reading, observations and conversations they are supposed to be “leader of instruction”. I don’t see them having enough time to be Highly effective here. To lead instruction it would mean they would be in classrooms, teaching, assisting and observing on a daily basis. How? Principals have to great a work load. Their most important task of leading instruction gets pushed aside for all the other demands of the job: District meetings, parent meetings, invention meetings, discipline meeting, required PD (isn’t on the job training best?) State meetings etc… oh and lunch duty, after-school activities and sports. By design principals have little time for their primary role in a school. This seems odd. Let me look further.

Let’s look at special education teachers. These are the very important, highly trained teachers that support those that need the most in our schools. From my experience they are scheduled out more than any other teacher. Not by choice but again by design. They have to attend: Meetings, like IEP meeting, intervention meetings, district special ed training meetings etc…. and sometimes time away to test their students one at a time.

Really when we look at all teachers, they have a tremendous load just like the Principals. Districts need to look at the work load design and decided if the design fits their needs and goals. I hope we want all teachers in the classrooms as much as possible and Principals free to support and guide these teachers. This is a factor in why average principal last 4 years. One half of teachers quit with in the first 5 years. Think about it.

Why Edcamp?

Why Edcamp? For teacher:

  1. Free- no cost is always good
  2. Collaboration- meeting with other teachers interested in furthering their skills in the profession will help create a more collaborative culture.
  3. Relevant to your classroom- You will be talking with classroom teachers who are currently in the classroom, not professional PD presenters who aren’t in the classroom daily
  4. Relevant to your needs- It fits your needs: you help decide what is going to be presented
  5. Active- Edcamps incorporate all teachers as participants, not a sit and get. The conversations drive the sessions since nothing is “canned.”

Why Edcamps need to be supported by districts:

  1. Free- in this day and age of budget cuts it fills a required need at NO expense.
  2. Saturday – Makes free even better, teachers don’t miss days of instruction for PD
  3. Diversity- Edcamps can fill the diverse needs of a large staff in one setting since the topics presented are diverse.
  4. Teacher lead- being lead by teachers gains staff by-in to ideas presented.
  5. We are on the right track-Since many districts are represented it gives staff a chance to feel reassured that they are on the right track when discussing topics and ideas with staff from other districts.

I am a teacher who likes to learn new things so I am going to EdCampOU. I believe in the Edcamp model so I have encouraged my curriculum director and principal to join me. They are in support of it now so it counts as state required PD hours for all district staff that choose to attend.

You should ask your administration to do the same where ever your Edcamp may be!

TO find out more about Edcamps or if one is happening near you checkout The Edcamp Foundation

Where do we go from here?

As a veteran teacher I have been thinking non-stop about the next step in education lately. I pursed a career in teaching because I love working with young minds and molding the future. I enjoy the challenges of working with a new crop of minds to motivate each year. I now feel pressures like no other. I feel disrespect daily from the media, community and students. When I talk to colleagues I hear overwhelming concerns about where our profession is heading. Stress levels seem to mimic the ones I saw in my father, a cardiologist, when I was a child. I chose the teaching profession over being a doctor because I wanted to have time to spend with my family. My father never had that time. However now I feel like I am losing my family time to my other kids. The 125 or so students who I have at school. I need to plan more than ever before to make sure I reach all of them. It seems society forgets that teachers are parents too.

As I read about different “Ed Reforms” I grow concerned. Most ideas come from people who have not spent much time in the classroom working with students. The ideas come from business, think tanks, and short-term teachers who climbed up a ladder and never looked back at classrooms. These ideas do not have research or proven methods behind them. Teachers will have to burden the costs of implementing them. Whether it be a financial cost, time cost or professional cost. Race to the top has created ranking systems that have no merit in a work place where there are too many variables for student achievement. A teacher could be ranked highly effective in one school but if they were moved to a different school they would be ranked ineffective.

The United States education system needs to change for sure but not the way we are doing it now. Right now we seem to be looking for a silver bullet that fixes everything at once. We want to blame “bad” teachers and “praise” great school programs. (Read blame union teachers/praise charter schools if you will). If we continue down this road, the winners will be businesses that profit off of the change, the losers will be the rest of American Society.

There is a model that seems to work. Look no further than the medical professions for assistance. Doctors train as interns for 2,4 and sometimes 6 years. Studying under the TOP leaders in their profession. Their teachers actually show, hands on how to perform in the field. Medical students start by watching the best work , assist and then have a hand at showing what they learned with the best watching on. This is completely different from how we train out teachers. We throw them in a student teacher placement with who ever will take them, and then tell them we will come see them teacher every few weeks. No wonder some teachers are bad, they received bad training, blame the school of education they attended.

If a professor is teaching college students how to teach, they need to be active in a school teaching. Not all day but a class or two. If someone is going to be recognized as an expert in the field of education, they need to be actively teaching in the field. We can’t have experts observe and report out, they need to do, so students can see them practice what they are preaching. I know teachers work hard to become the best in their field so they can consult. Is it best for students to have the best teachers sitting on the sidelines? Would we want a surgeon who heard an expert speak one day? or the surgeon who watched, assisted and was critiqued by the best?

Let’s fix education!! But let’s make sure we do it right by listening to the teachers and giving them what they need.