Here is the Ying to my Yang. Ms. Hiltz makes good points in support of Common Core. Many of which I don’t disagree. I agree with the higher order thinking expectations. I agree with challenging our students to expand their thinking. I agree with that. I even agree that it has changed how I teach! You have to change how you teach in order to teach the Common Core. There’s no way around it. It’s the assessment piece that has me at my wits end. I believe the combination of the two, Common Core and PARCC, work against each other like oil and vinegar. Teaching students a variety of strategies and alternative thought processes make absolute sense to me, however, not allowing students the autonomy to choose the strategy that best fits them on the assessment bothers me. Again, I say, children think differently and learn differently and should be able to use strategies that have become comfortably familiar to them to support their way of thinking. None the less, I appreciate Ms. Hiltz’s viewpoint and thought I’d share it with you. And so, the battle continues…
The bottom line is that most U.S. schools have no plan to provide the sorts of classroom instruction that at-risk kindergartners need. Neither high-quality, extensive professional development for kindergarten teachers nor expert tutorial instruction for at-risk kindergartners is on the agenda at this point. This means that most schools deliberately create a pool of students who will become struggling readers. I say deliberately because, unfortunately, that’s just what it is— deliberate ignorance of what we should do to address the problems of at-risk kindergartners. (Allington, 2011)
In a recent staff meeting, we read the article “What At-Risk Readers Need” by Richard Allington. The above quote stuck with me and elicited some great discussion among a group of us during the meeting. The article discussed the lack of instruction at-risk readers receive within the classroom. Allington asserts that children leaving kindergarten not knowing their letters and letter sounds will more than likely become struggling readers. In fact, at the time of this research, he stated that 66% of students were reading below grade level. Take a moment just to consider that. That means, two out of every three students in your classroom, are reading below grade level! Astounded by this realization, I had to stop and consider my own students and actually found the statement to be consistent with what is happening in my classroom!
My thoughts cling to these two words, “deliberate ignorance”. Who, in their right mind, would practice ignorance, on purpose?! Well, according to Allington, many of us tend to fall prey to this particular form of ignorance. You see, when we know that we don’t know a particular instructional process or strategy, we choose to deal with our ignorance by purposely overlooking those struggling students and focusing on those we know we can help instead. Why? Because it’s the easiest thing to do! It’s just as compelling as it is true, isn’t it? It was for me and, after some thought, I found, and consequently owned the fact that I, myself, have apparently been practicing this “deliberate ignorance” for much of the year!
Okay, so, what exactly does this “deliberate ignorance” look like? I’ll explain by sharing my personal experience and perception of what it looks like in my own classroom. Earlier in the year, I acknowledged my fear of literacy instruction and development. I mean, I have enough knowledge of how to teach reading and comprehension skills to get by, but, when it comes to grammar, spelling patterns and conventions, this is a struggle for me. It has been for some time now, and although I continue to seek help and guidance, the mere thought of being responsible for the facilitation of my students’ literacy development, scares me to no end. If I fail, they fail, right? Well, with deliberate ignorance, that is exactly what I have already done…failed my struggling readers by providing surface level intervention.
Additionally, when it comes to guided reading groups, although I know and agree with the differentiation of instruction, the actual process of implementing 3-5 small reading groups a week, AND attending to my most bottom three readers, five times a week, during a separate intervention time during the day, along with collecting weekly data for all, has proven to be very overwhelming for me. Because of my overpowering insecurity, rather than attacking the issue, rather than researching, watching, and working to implement a new process, a new strategy, a new routine that would benefit my students…I did what benefited ME instead…and deliberately ignored the developmental needs of my lowest reading students. Listen, ignoring it was a lot easier than addressing it, so, I did what was comfortable. I KNOW I’m not alone in this, so I’m okay with this public admission. In fact, for me, this public realization and disclosure signifies my personal commitment to transform my deliberate ignorance into intentional awareness.
For me, choosing to become intentionally aware is a resolute, determined, uncompromising shift in paradigmatic thinking which will help me truly attend to the individual needs of my students. That means being intentionally aware of how students acquire and develop language, being intentionally aware of how students construct the meaning of vocabulary and being intentionally aware of how students construct meaning from what they are reading rather than simply labeling this with a quantified number or test score. It means tackling the areas of my practice that I fear so much with confidence and purpose. It means getting beyond the surface of my students learning and putting their needs ahead of my own, even when it feels uncomfortable. As I sit and reflect on my students and this year, I believe that becoming intentionally aware will do nothing less than further align my passion with my purpose. My students deserve nothing less than my all, especially when they so often feel that no one else will.
Well, there you have it. That’s my take on deliberate ignorance. What about you? Is there an area in your practice that you can admit to being deliberately ignorant? If so, turn it around, become intentionally aware instead, and further align your passion with your purpose. Two-thirds of our students depend on it!
Some months ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Matrix”. In it, I share the struggles my oldest has experienced with reading fluency and comprehension. I know I’ve spoken of him a great deal, but I am in absolute awe at the progress he’s made! I just can’t help it! All of my children are making great gains academically, but he truly exemplifies perseverance and hard work! He’s the one that has to work harder and longer, but he does it and he has proven to himself that it pays off!
He is now in the 6th grade and even though it takes him a little longer to do some things, he has demonstrated to himself that he does have the ability to achieve. He has made the Honor Roll all this year! Even with that, he has remained in disbelief about his Honor Roll status. He didn’t believe it because he has doubted his capability for so many years! So much that he has stated, out loud, “I can’t get good grades. I’m not smart.” My husband and I looked at each other with astonishment and then came my response, “WHAT?!! Not only are you smart…you’re amazing!!”
A couple of days ago, he made a profound statement after taking his Reading OAA. He had been quite anxious about it to say the least and understandably so considering the difficulty he’s experienced with standardized testing thus far. In a concerted effort to boost students confidence, the school asks that parents write their students a note of encouragement for test days. I wrote him the attached note, not realizing the true impact it would have!
When he called me after school, the first thing he said to me was he thought he did really well this time! He has NEVER sounded more confident and sure of himself!! It was a profound revelation from he who thought it to be impossible. I was filled with so much joy! I told him that was AWESOME! He continued by saying, “Yeah, I did slack a couple of times, but then I read your note and it helped me get focused!” I said, “Well, you DO know you’re amazing, right?”
I’ve said it before, there is power in words. We all want our children to reach higher and go farther. You know the saying, “if you can believe it, you can achieve it”. It is vital that we continue to instill in our students the importance of hard work and the diligent commitment it takes to succeed. Come on, really. You do know they are amazing, right? So, no matter what it takes, we need to keep telling our children that they have a gift to share with the world, that they are capable of anything, and just how absolutely amazing they truly are.
I have been staring at this data for TWO days! CRAP!! What happened?? I am looking at my SLO data (student learning objectives) which were written by me as long-term, measurable academic growth targets for each of my students. I wrote two goals this year that made up my SLOs. Both written in the area of English Language Arts, more specifically in guided reading and writing, and admittedly my weakest areas of practice by far. I’ll take math over ANYTHING any day!! However, I digress…
Let me preface all of this by first explaining what SLOs are and how they have come to fruition. Student Learning Objectives are one of two components used to make up the new Ohio teacher evaluation system (OTES). The other component is the teacher’s performance, as determined by a written professional growth plan, formal observations, and administrative walkthroughs to name a few. Each component is weighted at 50% (50% for teacher performance and 50% for student academic growth), together, making up a final summative rating for the teacher at the end of the school year (Ohio Department of Education, 2014).
Now, while there are a few different ways to obtain student growth measures, there were only two options that really applied to me. They were shared attribution and SLOs. Different from the individually developed SLO, the Ohio Department of Education (2014) defines shared attribution as “an optional local student growth measure that can be attributed to a group of teachers. It encourages collaborative goals and may be used as data in the student growth component of teacher and principal evaluations”. Essentially, what this means, if I understand correctly, is that a school or district could decide, collaboratively, to base their SLO on, say, the success or value added measures of their fourth grade students’ state assessment results. If those fourth graders meet the state’s performance index and/or value added measures, the ENTIRE STAFF meets their student-learning objective for that year! Of course, in order for the shared attribution measure to be successful, you would need a completely invested staff that believes wholly in the mission and vision of the school and trusts one another without any doubt. To be frank, the staff would need to be fully acceptant of that old Three Musketeer mantra, “all for one and one for all”! Apparently, several surrounding districts do. I absolutely understand the reservation regarding putting your trust in someone else’s practice and progress. It is definitely a risk especially when your name is attached to your students’ scores. However, it is vitally important for teachers’ actions to support their spoken beliefs. Saying you understand the importance of vertical curriculum alignment and the effects each grade level has on the next, then closing your door to others, your mind to new knowledge, and losing all hope for the success of our students is a misalignment of practice. It just does not make sense! Shared attribution would not benefit a staff such as this.
Maybe there were others as confused as I was regarding the two. I have to admit that at the time of its roll out, this portion of the evaluation process was muddy/murky for me. I had some other things clouding my mind and impeding my ability, or better yet, my willingness to even try to comprehend any of this at all. I put it all on the back burner to attend to at a later date and time. Oh, but how quickly things have become very clear.
As stated earlier, I wrote two SLOs for English Language Arts. There were several reasons for doing this. The first reason is that part of the district’s improvement plan is a focus on writing. The other goal, established by our staff, focused on guided reading levels. In creating my goals, my team and I put a lot of thought into our student growth targets. We created them collaboratively in order to support each other and ensure consistency in our instructional practices. Using the SMART goal characteristics (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) to create my goals, I developed the following learning objectives for my students:
1) For guided reading, each student will be expected to demonstrate at least one-year’s growth minus one level based on the Fountas and Pinnell text gradient chart.
This essentially meant my students would increase their reading by 2 levels (0r 0ne year’s growth) by mid-March. As I said earlier, my focus was not on SLO development, so I may have made an error in the targets I set. Even still, an increase in two levels did not seem overly ambitious to me…at the time.
2) For writing, each student will be expected to demonstrate a 4-point, or 40%, growth over their original baseline data gathered in September using the district-adopted STOP rubric. For example, if a student scored 2 out of ten in September, he/she is expected to have 6 out of ten points on the rubric by March.
Now, as student scores increased, the growth target decreased. So, students that scored a 7 as a baseline only needed to demonstrate a 3-point growth over their original baseline and so on. Again, this target did not appear to be unattainable for my students over a 6-8 month period.
I have high expectations for my students, for which I am very proud. I will never change nor deviate from the expectations upheld for my students. For that, I may learn a potentially unfortunate lesson. Even though student growth is what schools, districts, and states desire to see over a year’s time, as with value added measures; and although many of my students made growth in both areas, the only student growth that mattered were those that either met or exceeded the student growth target I set for them. Those that made minute amounts of progress were not taken into consideration at all. Because of the high expectations and the ambitious hopes and dreams I have for my students, there is now a great possibility that I will be rated this year as a DEVELOPING teacher! That’s “developing”, as in one-step above ineffective and one step below proficient. “Developing” defined as undergoing development, growing, or evolving. My thought process eludes me. Let me get this straight. I am a teacher with 10 years of experience, a doctorate degree in education, a budding business, and the determination of becoming a premier leader in school improvement and educational reform. Yet, according to my student growth data, I could possibly be rated as a developing teacher!!! I am suddenly bothered, extremely annoyed, and incredibly disappointed.
Since I am undoubtedly aware of and acknowledge my areas of strength and weakness, I realize that there is always and will always be an opportunity to learn and grow. No way am I perfect, nor do I want to be. A developing expert in my field, perhaps? Yes, absolutely, but even experts continue to research and learn within their area of expertise. Identifying gaps in my practice is clearly not the issue. As I continue to sit and go over the lessons I’ve done, small groups I’ve facilitated, strategies I’ve taught, or even the things I didn’t quite do as effectively as I could have, I identify the real basis of my irritation.
My data clearly shows a gap in my instruction. It is true data. It communicates the areas of practice that need attention as data is intended to do. But, the longer I sit and stare, the more I begin to think about the ways in which this data will affect my future as an educator and any goals I have beyond the classroom. How could I possibly turn this data in as it is? This does not look good at all! I stop right there and shake off those thoughts as the leader within me emerges. It seems to me that the purpose of this process is to help teachers become more effective in their practice, right. However, the first thing I contemplated was falsifying my data to meet the needs of whom…MYSELF!! Immediately, I cast aside the needs of my students. I wonder how many teachers have had or will have the same thoughts if/when they see that their data is not up to par. I wonder how many will change their data to meet their own needs. It makes sense to me because none of us wants to receive a low summative rating. That is just human nature. We would all like to be rated as knowledgeable educators who understand their practice and are able to help every single one of their students grow every single year. No extraneous factors will ever get in the way. Our targets will always be set perfectly every year and our students will never fall short. That’s how we all want to be viewed. But, the reality is, the state of education is forever changing in practice and pedagogy. Therefore, those of us on the front line will fall short at some point because of the inevitable rate in which these changes occur. However, in this process, as it is right now, teachers will always benefit because we will all make certain that our rating will reflect proficient and accomplished performance. In the end, the students will be the ones that suffer because their instruction will not be at the top of our priority list. Meeting our SLO targets will. Now, that’s what I call fair! Um, not so much…
Needless to say, I could not and did not change my data. The moment I thought about doing that, the evaluation process lost is intended purpose. For me, the process no longer focused on instructing students, but rather on me making certain that I received the rating I needed to maintain my job. Now, the process was not promoting growth in effective instructional practices, but instead, effectiveness in falsifying documents and perfecting the practice of lying. The proverbial dog and pony show, more commonly known as the scheduled evaluation observation (we ALL put our best foot forward during those), along with the lowered expectation bar, which will soon convincingly be identified as the rigor I will claim to provide in my classroom, has the great potential of guiding my future in this field. How does that even make sense? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of this whole process? Thankfully, I would never shortchange my students by lowering my expectations for them. It just does not align with my personal or professional morals. They need to be challenged, want to be challenged, and should be challenged. However, in the meantime, there is clearly a flaw. In my opinion, whether student learning objectives or shared attributions, the process is ambiguous, inequitable, unreliable, and holds no validity in regards to teacher accountability. In fact, it only evokes this simple question; NOW what??