SLO NO!! Now What?

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??

Even the BEST have Room to Grow

Room to Grow is proud to

Many of us have completed the first round of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) by now, with seemingly mixed emotions about the process, I’m sure.  During this process, I have reflected on my practice, identified my instructional strengths and weaknesses, and written my Professional Growth Plan defining my personal goals for this school year.  I’ve found myself in reflection quite a bit in recent days because no matter what I do, it is my incessant goal to be the “best”!  However, this time, the outcome is a bit…different. Let me continue by explaining in a little more detail.

Once my growth plan and goals were firmly in place, I began focusing on determining the needs of my students.  After identifying one or two areas of academic need, I wrote learning objectives for each of my students in order to focus their learning.  Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) are used to guide instruction and interventions for individual students and/or small groups.  It is yet another tool for educators to utilize in order to assist in becoming more well crafted in this practice; to become better…or even…the “best”.

After students’ outcomes were set, I began to think about the lesson I would choose for my observation.  To be clear, my strength is in the area of mathematics, so it would seem logical that I would want to be observed in that area.  HOWEVER, after speaking in depth with my principal regarding my areas of weakness, literacy was identified as the area of choice for my observation.  I wasn’t discouraged by this at all because in my mind, the “best” teachers want to focus on their weaknesses in order to grow. Right?  I consider myself a great teacher and am always looking for opportunities for professional growth. I guess I would classify myself as one of the “best”… Keep in mind that the adjective “BEST”, in this context, is defined by my own perceptions and interpretations and by all intents and purposes is defined correctly and accurately. Now that THAT’S cleared up…:-)

I spent hours upon hours planning for my observation.  I even tried something new because I really wanted to receive feedback regarding how to strengthen this area of my instruction. So, I took on using the Daily 5 structure during my literacy block to teach reading.  The Daily 5 structure is  “a series of literacy tasks [including embedded mini lessons] which students complete daily while the teacher meets with small groups and/or confers with individual students” (received from, December 11, 2013). I LOVE this process because it provides such a great deal of structure for me and my students. So, I thought…I’d try it.

Everything started well, at least in my mind.  My first mini lesson included a short grammar lesson. I was really up for the challenge since my principal is a literacy guru!  Wait…why did I choose this again? Oh yeah, that’s right…for growth in an area of weakness. Grammar was the absolute right choice for THAT, that’s for certain! My lesson consisted of a short review on verb tenses.  When I reviewed the lesson the night prior, I asked myself some questions that I KNEW my students would ask. I looked through the reading curriculum only to find no in depth explanations or reasoning behind when and why verb tenses change. All I had was my general knowledge, which was not nearly enough. So, instead of investigating further, I convinced myself that since it was merely a mini lesson, I must be over analyzing this thing.  I had to be over thinking all of this.  I told myself to stick to the basics for this one and if necessary, go deeper later. My second mini lesson for the Daily 5 structure was the real lesson I was focusing on, so that’s really where I placed all of my time and attention.

So, why was I so surprised when the “guru” interrupted my lesson to correct my remedial reasoning during the lesson? Well, I guess it’s because I have never had a principal interrupt a lesson in a corrective manner, at least that I can remember.  No, no, no, please do not misunderstand…it was in no way done in a negative manner, nor was it done with malicious intent. Actually, in hindsight, I now know that it was intended to serve the purpose I was seeking, for professional growth.  Oh…but at that particular moment, I was crushed. I expected my administrator, my educational leader, to come in, sit down, and…observe. I mean, seriously…it’s called an “observation” for goodness sake!

Here is what I have come to conclude. It has been six years since my last instructional observation.  All evaluations in between have consisted of some sort of action research project. Prior to that, there was only one lesson that I felt I truly bombed, and that was early in my teaching career.  Any, and all, evaluations I have received subsequent to that have been very good.  Administrators have complimented my instructional practice and pedagogical knowledge and thinking, which I attributed to my most recent degree pursuit. I found it most beneficial to define my purpose and philosophy of education during that time. It really helped me to focus my practice. I can easily determine students’ needs, I am very familiar with how to analyze data and how to use it, and I am a doctored practitioner of educational research in the school/classroom environment.  Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve stated in posts prior, I KNOW that I do NOT know it all, nor do I claim to, but there is something about receiving that message in the middle of an evaluative lesson that is quite humbling.

Nope! No way! I do NOT know it all! It is important for me to restate this fact aloud during times such as this. The permeable pores of my mind had become clogged with complacency, gone unnoticed due to my complete satisfaction with past reviews and with my current level of educational knowledge. I absolutely believe that I challenge my practice and my students, but I found through this experience that I have been challenging my practice only in the areas that I have determined to be comfortable and safe.  Conversely, in the particular content or instructional areas that I know fall outside of my comfort zone, I settle for “good enough”! What a realization and admittedly a tough pill to swallow.

You can rest assured that even the “best” educators find themselves in a rut sometimes, but does that minimize their level of instructional practice?  Does this make them now the worst teacher EVER? Not at all!  What it does mean is that there is always something new to learn or old to relearn.  It affirms the progressive changes that continuously occur within our student population, as well as within our instructional practice.  It is indicative of the substantial need for ongoing professional growth and development. It ascertains that even the “best” educators have room to grow.

Let me end by offering this… Be aware of the web that complacency attempts to weave. It is so easy for even the most effective teachers to find themselves trapped in it. Know that effective educational leaders will be a model of excellence, not of mediocrity.  Effective educational leaders, those that have an enormous passion for teaching and learning (not only for students, but also for you, the educator) have transformational ability. While I have yet to receive the post conference to complete my evaluation, the process thus far has afforded me a great deal of reflective opportunity.  I have known for quite some time that learning is an ongoing, continuous process, but I absolutely appreciate the interruption that occurred that day and the reminder that for even the “best”, there is ALWAYS…room to grow.