Introducing the State of the Classroom

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State of the Classroom is a new publication of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC), featuring practical observations from award-winning educators in Washington. In this first edition, teachers reflected on the difference between growth & proficiency, as well as how they track growth and use it to plan instruction. Read the 2018 State of the Classroom here, and read Denisha Saucedo’s long-form responses below!

More about growth and proficiency…

From Denisha Saucedo, 6th Grade Teacher, Kent School District. 2018 Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Teacher of the Year.

The use of state tests as a measurement of success in education has masked more important data points. Growth percentiles are far more valuable. They not only illustrate student achievement, but are evidence of a teacher’s positive or negative effect on student achievement. The student, teacher, and parent fear of the data reveal, leads to the looming questions:

  • “Did I/they pass?”
  • If not, “Did I/we do something wrong?”
  • “Am I stupid?”
  • “Am I an ineffective teacher/parent?”

This is the stress of high-stakes testing. Once I understood that the summative Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) score alone was not enough to measure success, I knew I was making a larger impact on student growth. I took a step back and set a goal that all students would end the year making no less than a full year of growth (preferably more). This growth mindset has caused me to get to know my students and their needs. This is far beyond the relationship building that was the reason I became a teacher in the first place. This is diagnosing my student’s educational needs. See, when you are just trying to help students pass a test, it’s really just about the test. But when you are focused on getting them closer, getting them further, maximizing their potential — well that is about the student.

Now that education as a whole is moving towards this mindset, it has definitely impacted the way we assess educational success. I do believe that the dreaded percentages of passing and failing still hover over us, but it no longer feels as if teachers are given a boat with no paddles and expected to make it to shore before sundown. In my district we use growth percentiles throughout the year. We use this data to inform, celebrate, and/or make changes to our instruction. Because in my particular building we have a high number of students not meeting standard the previous year, students were expected to make a 35 point gain on their i-Ready reading assessment. This would equate to a year and a half’s growth in 9 months of instruction. My student’s average growth percentile for Reading was 52 points — a celebration! Under the previous No Child Left Behind system, that growth would have meant nothing. With less than 50 percent of students meeting standard, I would be considered a failing teacher. On the other hand, 55 percent of students met standard on their unofficial SBA scores. This was also a celebration when considering 19 percent passed the previous year; however I have an obligation to 100 percent of my students. This mindset is what leads me to look at growth on not only the SBA, but i-Ready, curriculum end of module assessments, attendance, attitude towards learning, and homework completion.

I measure growth in these areas because they directly correlate. When a student cares about school, has a reason to show up, and can see growth, they will grow even more. According to John Hattie, the greatest effect on student achievement comes from the teacher’s estimate of student achievement. If the teacher believes a student is capable, they are more likely to be successful. Number two on Hattie’s effect size list is collective efficacy. Basically, it’s the belief that together as educators — partners in our building or grade level — we can and will have a positive impact student on achievement. Humans are at all difference levels of cognitive thinking, so we have to believe, no matter the circumstance, that growth is inevitable. If we always compare ourselves to what others can do and not to what we are capable of doing we will waste time sulking over what we can’t do instead of reaching for better. This does not mean setting lower goals or creating a ceiling. This means looking at where you are and setting goals to move further. What I tell my students is that if you master all the standards at the 6th grade level, this does not mean you close your book and take a vacation for the rest of the year. We will move on to 7th grade standards, 8th grade standards, or high school. Whatever it takes, we all have room to grow.

My recent celebrations did not come from meeting standard. They came from growth. One student, let’s call her Stephanie, was dealing with chronic migraines, and her increased absenteeism was impacting her ability to meet standards. Stephanie began the year reading between a 3rd and 4th grade level (I teach 6th grade). She barely scored a level 2 on her 5th grade SBA, and her attitude towards learning was steadily diminishing. After constant heart to hearts, relationship building, increased beliefs in her ability, lessons in concept and in commitment, and self efficacy, we turned a corner. Stephanie made 82 points growth on her i-Ready. She missed one day of school in semester two (she had missed 28 days and several early dismissals in semester one). Stephanie led three times as many class discussions in semester two, and her unofficial level 4 on her 6th grade SBA was icing on the cake. Stephanie is now less likely to drop out of school. She is more likely to meet future goals that she set because she developed a growth mindset. Stephanie told me that school was always hard because she just felt like she was always confused; poor attendance. She felt like she didn’t know as much so she couldn’t speak up; poor test scores. Stephanie is a perfect example of why we should prioritize growth over meeting standards. If my focus was only on whether she was meeting standard, then coming to school, participating, and making growth — which were all clear factors in her success — would have been overlooked.

Let’s compare Stephanie to Sam. Sam, unlike Stephanie, came to school almost every day but refused to talk. He spent 90 percent of the first semester silent. He began the year reading at a 1st grade level and would often take five minutes to answer a question about how he was doing on a particular day. Much like with Stephanie, Sam turned a corner. In the second semester all of a sudden he was cracking jokes and participating in small group discussion. Every time he would meet a small goal such as 2nd grade sight words or using strategies to determine the meaning of words at the 3rd grade level, we celebrated. He put his basketball on our hoop (score!) he visited his 4th grade teacher, with a note of course! And we made phone calls home. This growth mindset made school less daunting. Sam ended the year with a 77 point growth on his i-Ready, reading at a 4th grade level, and an unofficial level 2 score on his SBA. More importantly, he turned a corner and now has a greater self-efficacy. He completed three homework assignments in semester one. In semester two, he began handing me assignments I had not asked for yet. If we only look at Sam’s growth toward meeting standards and even his attendance, he looks slightly above average. But if you don’t consider participation, homework completion, and attitude, you don’t see the growth in his ability to be a student and an active part of a community of learners.

Students like Stephanie and Sam are the reason “grit,” which is enthusiasm, resilience, willpower, and perseverance, is important. Grit is what gets you through a test even after you have failed so many other tests. Once Stephanie and Sam developed grit nothing could stop their progress. They started to see mistakes as a step closer to success and as proof of their effort. We pushed hard and developed the understanding that this was part of the learning process; a skill for their whole lives. Grit is what is going to lead to the ability to get past unexpected life challenges and/or changes. I believe grit and mindset are becoming more popular because as educators we are noticing a direct correlation between hard work and success. Not every person is wired or nurtured to handle challenge. For many the natural reaction is to give up. Imagine if your doctor gave up because he/she was unable to determine what was wrong with you? One of my favorite examples is Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school varsity basketball team. Most would give up and take the obvious message; not Jordan! Another example is Albert Einstein, who was told he was stupid by more than one teacher. Some kids come to school with grit and just need a way to apply it to education; others need help developing it.

Focusing on grit and growth mindset are the non-content aspects of education that can open the doors to understanding higher math concepts, developing cures for diseases, creating a new food, or building an app. When we only focus on the standard, we take away the human aspect of education. We will never be able to standardize the way in which we all think. This is what makes us the most monopolizing species. It is what has landed us on the moon and increased our life expectancy rate.

More from the State of the Classroom authors:

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