Monday, November 8, 2010

Blinded by Data

Teacher A's students just took one of many standardized tests.  On this particular test 70% of his class is at goal or above.  The 3 other standardized tests this class took show approximately the same percentage.  Teacher B's students took the exact same standardized tests with quite different results.  Teacher B's class has between 25% to 45% of the class performing at or above goal. 

By looking at the achievement occurring in these classrooms, one could assume that Teacher A is a better teacher than Teacher B.  He puts in long hours to help his students achieve great academic lengths.  Teacher A is employing progressive, alternative teaching strategies.  Each of these things very well may be true, but there is plenty that Teacher A's & B's scores are NOT saying.  Teacher A's 70% were at / above goal BEFORE entering his classroom.  Teacher A's students come from middle & upper - middle class families.  Teacher A has less than 10% of his students receiving Free & Reduced Lunch. 

Teacher B's 25% - 45% achieving at / above goal were doing so BEFORE entering his classroom.  60% of Teacher B's students receive Free & Reduced Lunch.  Another 10% of Teacher B's students qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch, but don't apply.  Teacher B's students are visual / spatial learners with a strong mix of musical & kinesthetic (standardized tests are verbal linguistic).  Teacher B's students have low social & academic self - esteem; having grown accustomed to (over the years) being spoken to in a negative manner with limited positive feedback.  When Teacher B's students were tested, they were starving & struggling to concentrate on the test matter ~ they were requesting a snack but denied because there is a no-eating rule during standardized tests. 

Can we trust data?  Is it an accurate picture of our students' abilities?  Can we evaluate teachers based on their students' test scores?  Should Teacher B seek advice from Teacher A because his students are higher achievers?  Are we so blinded by numbers that we can't see the students, the human beings that inhabit our classrooms everyday?