Feeling like a failure…is it valid?

My district uses NWEA MAP scores to measure student growth. Our students take the test in the fall, are give a target to reach when they take the spring test. We have been using the Math and Reading tests for the past 3 years and this year we added the general science test. This week my classes took thescience test. We missed the growth target! One of my student growth data points will not be rated as effective. For me to have gotten effective 60% or more of my students needed to hit their growth target as projected by NWEA. We missed. I feel I have failed my class.

Or at least I did until:

A student took the 45 question test in 10 minutes and saw their test score jump 13 points!! Wait, What? I can’t read 45 questions in 10 minutes, That is answering a question about every 13 seconds is that possible with any accuracy? Yes, I know this student met their target, but it makes me question the validity of the test for every student. If someone can score higher by chance, can’t they also score lower? Should their be a way to make sure students actually read the test? Or is that one me monitoring 30+ students? (In fact this student tested 1 on 1 with another teacher because they we absent when the test was given) The fact is this student growth is reflected in MY teacher evaluation, it leaves me with a few questions.


1. Where do the growth targets come from? Not all students grow at the same rate so how in the world can NWEA project these targets? I have been told that they are calculated as the average growth for everyone that scores the same RIT score. IF so then 50% of ALL students will fall above and 50% will fall below as a law of averages.

2. What standards is the NWEA test based upon? I assume common core for ELA and Math, is it Next Gen for science? Surely not the Michigan 7th grade science standards that I am required to teach.

3. If students are above grade level, is it expected for them to grow? Teachers teach a grade level content standard, how can students grow in areas that are not taught as defined by curriculum? I know teachers need to offer enrichment opportunities in class but the dig deeper into curriculum not into high level curriculum that the NWEA test measures.

4. Do multiple choice test really measure knowledge? I often call them multiple guess tests. Most of my student love multiple choice because they can take a guess. They hate fill in the blank and short answer questions because that requires them to have the knowledge. I find it funny that a student who takes 30 minutes to try and unsuccessful complete a short answer test is done in 30 seconds with a similar multiple choice one! The new assessment for the common core are placing an emphasis on more open ended questions so why not NWEA?

5. Do these test scores correlate to content mastery? Is there evidence that doing will on MAP tests means students DO know the content knowledge?

I know these are changing times. Teachers are responsible for making sure our students grow. I KNOW every single student in my class grew in many different ways this year. I have their classwork to prove it. I hope the laws will be fixed so teachers like me don’t feel like FAILURES.

I will continue to strive to be the best teacher I can. I don’t want to resort to teaching to the NWEA (or any test) just to keep my job, I personally feel that would be educational malpractice.

A glimpse into my classroom …

This year I have had the pleasure of working with an MSU PHD candidate, who has come in to observe my teaching. He started observation a few years back as part of the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) project. Since that time his observations really focus on the what and how teachers teach. The following is the most recent transcript of his observations in my classroom, Names have been changes of my students, I found it cool to reflect on my teaching after reading his account of what happened.



When I walk into Todd’s second hour science class a scene from the movie Up is playing on the screen in the front of the room. “You’re going to see something that I talk a lot about,” Todd tells students from the doorway as they settle in. He also mentions that the class will not be watching the entire movie. Students just need to watch this scene so Todd can make his point.

After the scene is over, Todd stops the video and says that students should not be like the dogs in the movie who are constantly distracted from their pursuits because they see a squirrel. Todd asks students to think about the “squirrels” in their lives and suggests that these distractions could be a cell phone or other electronic devices.

“The cellphone is not going to help you do well in school,” Todd says. “don’t let the squirrel lead you out of where you need to be.”

Next, Todd introduces his three children briefly. Today is “Take your child to work day” and Todd has brought his three children to see what their dad does for a living.

Some of the students are engaged in animated talking and Todd calls for their attention. He explains to students that today is the final day of working on the research report that they started a week ago. He tells students that they should consider the rubric for the assignment and compare their work against the stated requirements of the rubric before they submit their final project. When Todd is finished with the explanations, he asks, “Does this make sense?”

No student raises a hand. “Yes? No? Maybe so?” Todd asks as he scans the room looking for hands.

“Maybe so,” one student in the middle of the room calls out.

Todd dismisses this comment and begins talking to students about another requirement of the assignment. Students have to complete a self-reflection after they have submitted their research project. This self-reflection asks students what grade they think they deserved and also requires them to justify this conclusion.

“And I don’t want ‘I deserve a good grade because I worked hard,’” Todd explains, “everybody worked hard. I want you to use the language of the rubric in your response.”

Todd next asks two students to help distribute laptops from the laptop cart. The two boys go to the back left side of the room to where the cart is located and begin to distribute laptops to the other students who have now gathered around the cart waiting for a laptop. The research projects varied but each was supposed to use digital media of some sort. Thus, each group of 2-3 students needed a laptop to complete the work. The laptops are quickly distributed and students return to their tables. Many students engage in social talk as they are waiting for their computers to boot up.

I decide to go to a back table (nearest to where the laptops were being distributed), and ask a boy, Chris, who is working by himself if he would mind if I sat and talked with him for a few minutes. He says yes and tells me that students were allowed to pick their own groups. I ask him if students were also allowed to work alone as he appears to be doing. However, Chris tells me that he is not working alone. He has a partner. He then points to his partner, Brad, who is standing up on the left side of the class between the front and the back of the room talking to a boy and two girls.

“I’m working with Brad,” Chris says.

“He’s not working, though,” I say.

Chris smiles but keeps working.

For his project, Chris has created a website on the human impact of the earth. As one scrolls down the page, Chris has recorded information about his topic “Humans Impact on the Earth” and found several pictures (using Google images) that would appropriately represent each of the facts that Chris included on his website.

I ask what work Chris has done and what work Brad has done. For Brad’s portion, Chris show me a picture and a one-sentence description.

“How long have you been working on this?” I ask.

Chris tells me that the class has been working on the project for about a week.

“So, in a week Brad has written a sentence and found an picture on Google Images to go with it?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Chris confirms, again with a smile and again without taking his eyes off his computer screen.

Momentarily, Brad wanders over, sits for a moment, fiddles with the computer and then leaves to talk to a girl at another table, where he promptly commandeers the girl’s I-phone and begins to manipulate the buttons.

A female student comes over to Chris and stands behind his right shoulder.

“Are you in my advisory?” the girl asks.

“No,” Chris answers without looking up from his computer.

“Are you sure because I think I’ve seen you before,” The girl continues.

Chris says nothing and the girl quickly flits away and continues to work with the two girls with whom she was working before.

Brad comes back and stands over Chris’s shoulder. “Chris, did you finish?” Brad asks.

“I’m almost done,” Chris answers. Again, he does not look up from his computer.

“Don’t play games!” Brad says, “Hurry up.” Brad blows a bubble and walks away.

A few minutes later, Todd walks by and Chris tells Todd that he needs him.

“How can I help you, Chris?” Todd asks.

Chris tells Todd that he is having trouble publishing his website. Todd angles the computer toward him and tells Chris a few things. Todd then leaves and walks to the adjacent table where his children are playing chess with students who are finished with their projects or are otherwise not currently working on them. Todd takes a picture and moves on to help students who need him.

“Brad!” Chris calls. Brad is now talking to a pair of girls near the checker game. At first Brad delays in coming over to where Chris is working, but eventually Brad makes his way over to where Chris is working.

“Did you finish?” Brad asks.

“I don’t know how to spell your last name,” Chris tells Brad. Brad sits down, angles the computer toward him, and types in his last name. Brad then gets up, walks to the other side of the class, and sits on the back counter next to friend. The two boys talk to a girl who is standing in front of them.

Momentarily, Brad comes back and Chris tells him that he has now published the website and the project is finished.

“You got it published?” Brad asks with enthusiasm, “Woo-hoo! We’re famous!” Brad gets up and leaves again.

Again, Todd walks by and Chris stops him to ask a question.

“Then we do the reflection?” Chris asks. Chris is asking about the self-reflection that students must complete electronically as part of the assignment.

“Yes, do the reflection,” Todd confirms.

Chris begins working through the reflection. I ask Chris if he is doing one for both him and Brad. Chris responds that he thinks every student must do his or her own reflection. Brad comes back after socializing for a few more minutes

“Did you finish?” Brad asks.

“Yeah, I’m doing the reflection,” Chris explains. He then tells Brad that he, too, will have to complete a reflection.

“Put me and you both in it,” Brad insists, but before he can leave again, Chris tells him that each student has to do his or her own.

“I’ll do my after,” Brad says looking over Chris’s shoulder at the computer screen.

Chris says, “to be honest, I think we deserve a B because we could have added more.”

Brad, still looking over Chris’s shoulder, says nothing. After a few seconds, Brad begins walking around the room again. This time he is clapping rhythmically (this lasts for about five beats).

Chris completes his self-reflection. Todd tells students that they should be submitting their work or preparing to submit their work. Brad returns and Chris tells Brad that he should complete the self-reflection. Chris has it all set up for Brad.

Brad sits at the computer and reads the screen. He then types responses to two of the questions in the self-reflection activity:


  1. What grade do you deserve?

Brad’s response: A

  1. Why do you deserve that grade?
    Brad’s response: because I put all my effort into this that is why I think I

Deserve an A

Brad finishes and puts his computer back on the rack. Todd calls for all students to log off on their computers and to return them to the mobile lab as Brad has just done. In a moment, Todd continues.

“Can everybody get in their seats, please?” Todd asks. He is repeating, “Shh!” as many students continue to talk socially. “Alright, excuse me. I know we’re having trouble settling back down.” Todd then thanks individual students and coordinates the return of a few final computers. “If I could have your attention please so we can wrap up and you can go on time.” Todd explains that some of the students are done but that some need more time. He suggests that students who need more time work on this project during advisory. All students will be presenting their projects next week. Todd says that he heard a lot of good collaboration and question asking during the period.

“What was the point of the project?” Todd asks.

“To understand how humans affect the earth,” A student calls out.
“Alright to help us understand the earth with the things we do,” Todd says. He then

tells students that he wanted them to learn how students can make a positive impact on the environment.

“I want to go now!” Todd’s young son announces (remember, it is “take your child to work day”)

Nearly everybody in the class laughs (a good-natured laugh).

“He’s a squirrel,” one student suggests. The student is referring to the reference Todd made about the importance of focus.

I don’t catch Todd’s response but in any event he dismisses the students and they exit.

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my classroom!

The Ultimate gift for Teacher Appreciation Week!


Give teachers the ultimate gift this year: YOUR RESPECT.

Teacher Appreciation week is upon us. As a teacher it is a great week to feel good about teaching students. Businesses offer special deals to teachers. Parent Teacher Organizations often garnish teachers with gifts and sweet treats. Students bring in cards of thanks. Districts issue thank you statements and hold celebrations to thank their teachers. Teachers are celebrated for all the great things they do for 5 wonderful day. Then we move on to Mother’s Day and with the rest of the year. Teachers fall to the back of the community’s mind, until the next year. There are times, unfortunately when teachers move to the forefront of the news. Events like Newtown, CT or Columbine tell the story of the heroic teachers’ mindset in the time of tragedy.

Teacher Appreciation week is a nice gesture to a craft that society tends to blame for its ills. Every time a sad tale of bullying, drugs, alcohol, suicide or vandalism by youth, the education system is quickly blamed. Advocates quickly propose legislation to “remedy” the problem. New unfunded mandates are placed upon our schools teachers. When studies find students aren’t eating healthy foods or getting enough exercise. Bills are introduced to change how schools serve lunch and offer recess. Schools are given the task to fix every problem that come up in the ever changing world. Not only are teachers required to address instruction of intellectual knowledge but we are charged with molding students socially, emotionally and physically. Teachers are doing their best to prepare to be proper citizens in our ever changing world. Often if feels like a thankless task.  Instead of having an appreciation week, show them your RESPECT all year.

How you ask:

1. Spend time with your children and teach them how to respect their teachers. It needs to be modeled at home. Don’t undermine the educational process.

2. Model proper use of technology. Don’t call and text your student’s cell phone when they are in class.

3. Support the school, attend school functions. Volunteer, help where ever and when ever you can.

4. Give financial support to your districts educational foundation. These foundations support innovative ideas in the classrooms, funding teachers projects. Every dollar ends up back in the classrooms supporting students. Teachers already spend more the $500 a year of their own money in the classroom for students, help out if you can.

5. Vote for candidates and proposals that support education and fund your schools. Many schools have aging infrastructures and need new funding to keep the buildings updated and stay current with technology demands.

6. Work with the teachers for your child’s education. Remember to be a part of an educational team with teachers and support the classroom activities. The demands are high but with parental support and good teachers every child can succeed.

7. When success is achieved, go back, let your teachers know and thank them. Nothing, and I mean nothing makes a teacher feel awesome about what they do than when they hear ultimate success stories.

Enjoy teacher appreciation week next week. I hope you celebrate it by showing all educators RESPECT.