Open Letter to My Local Teacher’s Union

Dear President Elizabeth Davis,

First and foremost, I wish to extend warm felt congratulations to you, and Ms. Candi Peterson. I wish you a successful term as President and General Vice President of the Washington Teacher’s Union. I wish to thank you, in advance, for taking the time to visit our school, and listening to the concerns of my colleagues, and your members. I look forward to attending the meeting.

My name is Angel L. Cintron Jr., and I’m a third year DCPS teacher at Charles Hart Middle School. I’ve entered into the profession via DC Teaching Fellows and The New Teacher Project. Although I’ve taken an alternative route to teaching within DCPS, I’ve had previous experience teaching in Florida, as well as The Netherlands. During my first two years in DCPS, I’ve taught middle school mathematics. Although my first year was eye-opening, I learned a lot of valuable skills from current, and former, colleagues.  Last year, I pioneered a new math program called Teach to One Math. It was an interesting and extremely exhausting experience. Nevertheless, I’m proud to have ended the year as a highly effective teacher, per DCPS IMPACT Plus.

This year, I’m teaching 7th grade social studies, which is a content that is more aligned to my educational background. Regardless of the subject, I take pride in my work ethic, and in my determination for influencing as many students’ lives as physical possible. A teacher’s job, especially within a high poverty middle school, is a daunting task. It demands dedication, long hours of preparation, an unyielding commitment to constant development. We – Charles Hart Middle School educators –are faced with severe obstacles and challenges, which are all too often ignored by policy makers on the other side of the Anacostia River. Even though we are often ignored or overlooked, we still continue to show up, every single day!

That being said, I want to express some of my concerns about my overall experience in DCPS. I want to separate these concerns along the following categories: 1) two classroom specific concerns, 2) one school specific concern, and 3) one Union specific concern. I can assure you that I’m not an educator who rails against the “machine,” or will waste your time with meaningless rants. My aim is to simply express my concerns.

Classroom Specific Concerns

Concern #1: We have too many overcrowded classrooms, which are highly ineffective educational environments.

Few concerns are more important to me than classroom size and composition. I truly have a difficult time understanding why, against valid research and common sense, we have overcrowded classrooms. Rather than spend bonuses on highly effective teachers, DCPS should spend more monies on creating highly effective classroom environments. Every teacher should have the right to work in a productive environment, not in an ineffective one. If every classroom consisted of only 15-20 students, then student achievement will undoubtedly increase. Isn’t that the desired aim for all educators and administrators? Shouldn’t we want to maximize instruction and student understanding? For the life of me, I have a difficult time understanding the rationale behind creating classrooms of 30, 35 or even 40 students. How is this an effective practice, especially within high poverty schools? In my humble opinion, overcrowded classrooms is a guaranteed way to increase teacher churn and burn.

Possible Solutions:

The obvious answer will be to hire more teachers. I can understand the District’s push towards increasing student performance in both reading and mathematics; however, if this leads to a narrowing of the curricula and overcrowded elective classes, then this is not a practical approach. Rather than spend monies on education specialists, we should hire more classroom teachers, and make sure a reasonable and effective student-to-teacher ratio.

Concern #2: 80-minute periods are far too long for middle school students.

This policy sounds great on paper, i.e. longer periods to expose students to more instruction; however, asking middle school students, especially those coming from stressful home environments, to sit in a classroom for 80 minutes is an enormous miscalculation. Have you ever participated in a professional development? Even the adults have a difficult time sitting in one place. Undoubtedly, educators will say, “well, that’s why teachers need to incorporate movement or stations in their lesson plans.” To be fair, I can agree with that argument. However, stations or learning centers can also be incorporated within a 55-minute class period. Moreover, it may even be more of an effective experience for students.

Possible Solutions:

DCPS needs to offer students with shorter class periods, and a more diverse curricula. Shorter class periods will create the need for adding more electives, or, at the very least, allowing every student the opportunity to take more than two electives per year. We should offer every student social studies, physical education, computer science application, music, art, etc. How many future artists, musicians, and computer scientists are we hindering by narrowing the curricula? We need to offer more courses, not less.

School Specific Concern

Concern #3: We have too many high-salaried specialists, and not enough classroom teachers or social-emotional support staff.

According to research, children raised in poverty are more likely to display the following: “acting-out” behaviors, impatience and impulsivity, gaps in politeness and social graces, a more limited range of behavioral responses, inappropriate emotional responses, and less empathy for others’ misfortunes. (Jensen, 2009). This is by no means an excuse or rationale for lowering academic expectations. To the contrary, we need to understand how poverty negatively affects students during the school day to strategize behavioral interventions beyond referrals. Although we have social workers and counselors available, they’re inundated with the amount of low-income students at our school. Essentially, we only have six full-time social support staff for a student population of six hundred.  That amounts to a ridiculous ratio of one social-emotional support staff to one hundred students. How is that an effective ratio? So, not only are our class sizes overcrowded, but we also have overwhelmed our social workers, counselors, and school psychologist. This is a recipe for disaster, and does not place the needs of our students first.

Possible Solutions:

             In addition to hiring more teachers, we need the flexibility and ability to hire more social-emotional support staff. We are not a “typical” public school. We’re located within one of the most, if not the most, impoverished wards in DC. Our school must have adequate resources, both financial and human, to effectively meet the needs of our students. Rather than manage the student population, the District has increased the overall student population vis-à-vis school closing and consolidation plans. We’re headed, precisely, in the wrong direction. School buildings, such as Johnson Middle School, must never be considered for closure. Our school should not have any more than three-to-four hundred students. Anything over that limit is bad education policy and highly ineffective.

Union Specific Concern

Concern #4:  In order to recruit more DCPS teachers, the WTU needs to champion teacher development and quality.

Unfortunately, teacher’s unions has a negative reputation. It isn’t uncommon to hear the following, “teacher’s unions protect bad teachers,” or “teacher’s unions protect only disgruntled, veteran teachers.” This image of the union has to change. I can’t help but notice how many young teachers there are within DCPS. We have a huge base, and need to maximize our potential. We need more mobilizing efforts via social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to name a few. As long as the negative reputation exists, many teachers will hesitate to take part within the union. Not to demean or disrespect earlier WTU Presidents, but relying on snail mail, and even emails, is not sufficient enough to maximize the WTU’s reach.

Possible Solutions:

             One of the easiest ways to recruit more teacher participation is through Twitter. First, the WTU needs to embark on a massive twitter recruiting campaign, in attempts to gain as many DCPS teachers as “followers” as possible. Second, the WTU must devote time, every day, to tweet a positive message of affirmation and support to all DCPS teachers (followers). By amassing a large twitter following, communication between members will undoubtedly increase. Lastly, the WTU can communicate any, or all, messages (tweets) to its’ members (followers) in real-time, and not solely rely on snail mail or email.

Another point to consider, the WTU should embark on its’ own version of a #RealEdTalk tour, much the same way that Michelle Rhee, Dr. Steve Perry, and George Parker recently completed. The WTU should make arrangements to secure at least one public school building per ward, in order to schedule a Q & A forum with all DCPS teachers. This would be a great opportunity to dispel any negative myths, promote an agenda or plan of action, and recruit more active participation from its’ members. It’s important to note, should such an event emerge, the schedule must be teacher-friendly. Meetings should not start prior to 4:30pm, at the earliest. It takes time for teachers to wrap up the end of the school day, as well as travel to such an event. I propose a start time between 5:00 – 5:30pm. Again, maximizing participation must be the goal. Teachers want to take part. We just need adequate time, and the opportunity to attend.

Closing Remarks

Again, I wish to congratulate you on your victory. I wholeheartedly support the idea of a strong teacher’s union. Now, more than ever, we are in need of strong leadership. Now, more than ever, we are in need of education visionaries at the helm. Now, more than ever, teachers need to feel empowered and appreciated. Now, more than ever, the time is ripe to strike the iron. If Washington D.C. is considered the face of education reform, then it should equally be considered the face of a strong teacher’s union.

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Sparring Match or Same Song, Different Tune?

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Recently, Andy Smarick and Kathleen Porter-Magee engaged in an e-debate on the central tenets of Smarick’s new book titled, “The Urban School System of the Future.” As I’ve read both sides of the divide, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of strands of commonality between the two camps, as well as a common theme that is all-to-often overlooked.  Here’s an interpretation of their friendly exchange from an urban, high poverty public school teacher’s perspective.

The Red Corner: Kathleen Porter-Magee

Point #1: “…classroom change is difficult. It’s an intense and frequently technical debate that must be grounded in the realities of teaching and learning in the classroom, and with a real understanding of curriculum and instruction.”

My Take:

I definitely agree that every teacher should have a real understanding of curriculum and instruction. However, to meet this goal, we must reexamine the nature and purpose of professional development. All too often, professional development topics are too broad in scope, and irrelevant to the needs of a specific classroom or school.

In my honest opinion, what’s missing within this debate is discussing HOW are we holding public schools teachers accountable for student achievement. High poverty, neighborhood public schools often have double the classroom size, double the composition rate of below basic and basic students, and double the amount disciplinary issues than charter schools. So, are we asking high poverty neighborhood public schools to “take one for the education reform team?” Or. Are we quietly asking them to babysit first, and teach second?

Point #2: “The challenge is that focusing the conversation on the district, rather than the classroom, glosses over the question of what students should be learning, whether we’re teaching it, and whether, in particular, we’re teaching it well in the challenging context of urban classrooms.” ~ Kathleen Porter-Magee

My Take:

I would humbly submit that the questions what is an effective classroom environment, how can professional development be designed to target a specific school or classroom’s needs, and how severe student misbehavior is addressed are equally glossed over.

The Blue Corner: Andy Smarick

Point #1: “Throughout the duration of the urban district’s failed career, we’ve focused incessantly on the classroom—giving its teachers more money, reducing the number of kids sitting inside its four walls, adjusting what’s taught, how it’s taught, how we assess what’s taught, and on and on and on.”

My Take:

Yes, but contrary to popular belief, all classrooms are not created equal. There’s a severe disconnect as to HOW a classroom’s composition, i.e. inclusion model vs. single tracking, actually benefits or harms students. Furthermore, certain education reformers defend the practice of creating larger classrooms with an effective or highly effective teacher in trying to expose more students to great teaching. However, according to a wealth of research, a larger class doesn’t necessarily equate to an effective educational environment. In fact, it may even be counterproductive.

Also, if we rely heavily on loading students into classrooms for effective or highly effective teachers and not offer EVERY teacher an effective or highly effective classroom environment, then we are failing to distinguish the forest for the trees. The unintended consequences of over-burdening your best teachers will undoubtedly include a higher rate of teacher burn out. We should want to keep our best and brightest for the long haul.

Point #2: “What we had not done is talk about the system in which those classrooms were embedded. Consider all of the supposedly dramatic reforms of the last several decades; every single one of them took for granted the district structure.”

My Take:

Not only are we taking the district structure for granted, but we also shy away from questioning its’ practices or one-size-fits-all policies. Certain policies, i.e. employing a reading specialist and AP for literacy in every public school sounds great on paper; However, if both high salaried positions come at the cost of hiring more classroom teachers, thus reducing classroom size, then what exactly is the day-to-day, classroom level benefit? Is it truly worthwhile to have a specialist “pull” students out of larger classrooms for remediation? Or. Would it be more beneficial to cap the classroom size in order for the teacher to offer targeted remediation based on a specific lesson objective?

Point #3: “…I readily concede that my recommended alternative system can’t succeed without the right things happening in classrooms. I wish Porter-Magee would concede that these right things will never happen in nearly enough inner-city classrooms unless the urban district is brought to an end. Its policies, practices, habits, systems, contracts, and so much more conspire to stymie great teachers and principals.”

My Take:

Score this point for both sides. Yes, placing emphasis on classroom reform is as important as focusing on the system and governance of school districts. And. Yes, there is great validity in discussing whether the district needs a new management model. In fact, allow me to offer a real, classroom-level example, which highlights both points-of-view.

The current basis for DCPS funding formula depends on enrollment projections. Until the audit process, which occurs in October, any other available funds to a specific school is withheld without regard to a school’s individual demand (real enrollment). This is a perfect example of how a policy can hinder school culture and classroom productivity. For example, my school is almost always crowded. Thus, waiting until the audit to receive adequate funding and staff causes a severe restraint.

There’s no doubt that an overcrowded classroom places severe instructional restraints on all teachers, regardless of IMPACT rating. Students in overcrowded classrooms shouldn’t have to wait five to six weeks to receive individualized attention. More importantly, the tone and culture of any school shouldn’t be held hostage to any district level policy. So, yes Andy Smarick is correct on this part of the debate. And. Yes, Kathleen Porter-Magee is correct as well. Why? Well, regardless of which side of the coin one wants to view, in the end, both sides have the same worth. So, yes, in a way, you’re both saying the same thing.

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iGradeU: The 7 Superpowers Every Teacher Must Master

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Are you a superhero teacher? Well, what about a good teacher with superpowers? Personally speaking, I rather be the latter. Here’s my list of superpowers, which I’m constantly developing. By no means does this imply that I have the magic formula. However, this is a list I use to remind myself that teaching requires constant reflection and development. Some days, ALL of the superpowers are working; and, some days ALL of the superpower software needs an update. Here are the seven superpowers I call: iGradeU.

1. Introspectiveness: The ability to look at one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.

It’s always easy to blame someone else in the school building for any, and every, reason. However, the first person you must ALWAYS question is yourself. For example, if a lesson falls flat and student misunderstanding runs high, you MUST ask yourself “how can I deliver this lesson better the next time?” If your classroom culture has taken a negative turn, you MUST ask yourself “what can I do to turn it around?”

2. Grit: The ability to prove unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.

There will definitely be moments or days when you will feel defeated. It’s in these moments that you MUST persevere. Regardless of the situation, you must rebound with a positive and focused plan of attack. For example, if you have difficulty making connections with a student, then continue to try different avenues to reach him or her. The most difficult students are often the hardest to win over, but, once they do, they can become the most loyal.

3. Resiliency: The ability to become successful again after something bad happens.

Undoubtedly, something can, and will, go terribly wrong during the school year. For example, you will definitely have “bad teacher” moments. It’s important to remember that these moments are opportunities to build your teacher character. You MUST dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and give it your all the next day.

4. Adaptability: The ability to change or be changed to work better in some situation or for some purpose.

You must adapt to your school’s environment. There will ALWAYS be too many meetings, too many deadlines, too many “things to do”, and NEVER enough time to do them all. You must adapt to the nature of the job. Remain flexible and prioritize! ALWAYS remember Muhammad Ali’s famous saying, “float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee.”

5. Determination: The ability to continue trying to do something that is difficult

Focus on completing a goal, or set of goals, by the end of the school year. Set realistic professional goals for yourself. Never underestimate the power of achieving small victories throughout the school year. Just like a teacher scaffolds a do now or an activity to help boost student confidence, you MUST scaffold your professional goals as well.

6. Empathy: The ability to understand or share another person’s feelings

You MUST have high expectations for EVERY student, but if you don’t possess empathy then you are nothing but a dictator. Teachers are not cold or callous. You MUST try to understand each student’s point-of-view if you wish to make connections beyond the classroom experience. Teaching is more than warm ups and exit slips. In many ways, you will become your students’ surrogate mother or father. Treat them with the respect that you would, or do, treat you own children.

7. Uniformity: The ability to conform to one principle, standard, or rule; Consistency.

One of the most under-rated aspects of classroom and school culture is consistency. You MUST guard against inconsistency in every aspect. For example, rewards and consequences MUST be delivered with fairness and consistency, regardless of the student. Expectations MUST be the same, regardless of the differentiated product. The most ineffective teachers are also the most inconsistent.

It’s a bird… It’s a plane…No, it’s a teacher with superpowers!

 

The Bizarro World of Education Reform

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The policy of public school consolidation is recipe for disaster. It completely misses the point, and disregards reliable research that suggests otherwise. In fact, consolidating public schools and creating larger class sizes is precisely the wrong prescription to administer to the patient. If the primary aim is to increase student achievement, then create smaller class sizes, and not larger ones.

At first glance, this may seem common sensical: smaller class sizes means more student understanding. However, it’s surprising how difficult it has become for education “reformers” to understand this basic, fundamental concept. Even when faced with research, they seem to find ways to avoid or misunderstand the main argument: class size matters! Rather than take my word or opinion as gospel, base your opinion on sound research. I will use the following published study, presented at the 2008 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in New York. Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett and Penelope Brown from the School of Psychology and Human Development at the Institute of Education, University of London, conducted and presented the report cited.

Now, I know many education “experts” will undoubtedly respond to my argument by suggesting that a highly effective teacher should handle any class size. Moreover, such teachers should manage any class size, and plan for instructional best practices, i.e. learning stations and group activities, to differentiate the process and product. This all sounds great. However, real research suggest otherwise. Blatchford, et al, states that “the larger the class size, the more whole class teacher led instruction occurred.” Again, this sounds like common sense right? So common, that even the very same education “reformers” shun the practice of teachers talking “too much” during whole class instruction. However, this is the exact opposite of what actually occurs in a large classroom environment. In fact, the more students in a room, the more difficult it will be to reach them all.

Yet, education “reformers” zealously defend their consolidation policy by suggesting that a highly effective teacher can teach and reach any class size. This is a weak argument at best, and foolish one at worst. Simply put, if you want more highly effective teachers in your system then place them in more highly effective educational environments.  Again, Blatchford, et al, states, “…smaller classes seem to allow an environment in which low attainers are not only less off task but less likely to receive coercive talk from their teachers. This appears to be a more productive educational environment.” Furthermore, “…smaller class can be a valuable initiative right through school, but could be particularly targeted, at secondary level, at lower attaining pupils. If not, the evidence is that they will be more prone to go off task and teacher’s will have to use up more time bringing them back on task.” Ladies and gentlemen, is creating larger class sizes not the exact opposite of what is necessary to reach each student?

Putting the research aside, I wish to speak from personal experience. I am a highly effective teacher (2012-2013), and, during the first semester, I had three 7th grade social studies classes. At the onset of the school year, my first period class consisted of twenty-two students, which, by far, was my favorite part of the day. In fact, it’s one of the best classes I’ve had the privilege of teaching. In contrast, my second class of the day, right after lunch, consisted of thirty-nine 7th grade students. This was, by far, my least favorite part of the day. Amazingly, the same “highly effective” instructional practices that I used during my first period went flying out of the window due to the sheer size of the class. After the first eight weeks of the school year, and after much prodding, this class size was finally reduced to twenty-nine students. And. What a WORLD of difference that has made!

In an ideal setting, student misbehavior is minimal. However, when you’re actually teaching within a low SES and high trauma middle school, student misconduct is a daily challenge. Although I agree that an effective teacher SHOULD be able to set up a positive, learning environment, regardless of the class size, placing a teacher in an overcrowded classroom, which consists of high needs students is a highly ineffective policy.

Education policy makers need to understand the realities from within an actual classroom, especially within challenging environments. They must understand the context of the neighborhood, and how its social milieu manifests within the school and classroom. Without such a direct connection, policies will become nothing more than ideal statements written on expensive paper. In other words, they’re kind, but meaningless words.

My fellow educator, it should not take a genius to understand that a smaller class size, especially within a high needs neighborhood public middle and high school, IS the most effective setting to ensure student achievement. If you don;t believe me, then ask your local charter school. Besides, why do you think private charter schools and public charters schools insist on smaller class sizes? But, putting that aside, why should charter school teachers, alone, enjoy working in a highly effective classroom setting? Why should they be given the golden ticket, while we – public school teachers – are left begging for the same opportunity? Creating larger class sizes, particularly in challenging schools, is the wrong approach, and creates a recipe for teacher churn and low expectations.

VAM Design Flaw: Where You Teach Matters!

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(Illustration by Peter Hoey / For The Times)

 

As a teacher who works in a low socio-economic status (SES) public middle school, I can agree that the greatest in-school factor in promoting student growth is teacher quality. That being said, the main concern I have centers on how education reformers are holding teachers accountable for their students’ test scores. More specifically, I’m concerned with the DCPS IMPACT Plus Group 1 teacher evaluation system; and, how test scores negatively affect low SES DC public middle school teacher evaluations in Ward 8. I am not making “excuses”; I am merely shedding light on a significant flaw of the evaluation method.

There’s no denying that a student’s academic starting line is further back in Ward 8 than in Ward 3. (Refer to chart below). Given this disparity, allow me to elaborate further by providing an example. Let’s say a public middle school student in Ward 8 (A) enters the sixth grade with the ability to read and compute on a third grade level. His or her sixth grade teacher must raise student A’s academic performance by three years in time for the DC CAS (about 7 ½ months of instruction). By all accounts, making three years worth of academic gains in 7 ½ months is a Herculean effort for any teacher, regardless of SES background. Now let’s consider a student (B) that enters in the sixth grade on or above grade level for reading/computation. The teacher of student (B) must make sure the student continues on grade level proficiency. In other words, this amounts to one year’s growth. Now I ask you, which student would you prefer an evaluation: Student A or Student B? Which student would you bet your job security on: Student A or Student B?

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Although teachers don’t, and shouldn’t, choose their students, a decision to teach in certain schools definitely influences which students the teacher is most likely to meet. Ward 8 DC public middle schools consist of an overwhelming amount of students that are multiple years behind grade level. On the contrary, the Ward 3 public middle school consists of an overwhelming amount of student performing on or above grade level. Is there any coincidence student scores are lower in Ward 8 public middle schools? Are Ward 8 public middle school teachers more incompetent than Ward 3 public middle school teachers? Are Ward 3 public middle school teachers better at their craft? Are Ward 3 public middle school teachers more talented or more qualified to teach? It would be nothing short of an insult to answer yes to any of these questions.

If this problem stopped here, I would not be writing this piece. However, the damage to low SES public school teachers goes further. Let’s review highly effective teachers distribution chart. As you can see, the overwhelming amount of highly effective teachers belong to Ward 3, while the lowest percentage of highly effective teachers belong to Ward 8. Again, is this due to “incompetence” or “inexperience?” The unspoken reality is that Ward 8 public middle school teachers must raise student growth at almost three times the amount as Ward 3 public middle school teachers; yet, they’re least likely to receive praise or recognition for achieving a one to two-year(s) student growth. Instead, Ward 8 public middle school teachers receive criticisms and judgments for falling short on their unrealistic task.

Proponents of the VAM-based approach to teacher evaluations often attempt to explain how VAMs capture student “growth.” VAM fans are quick to suggest that VAMs account for student performance (growth or decline) because they’re benchmarked to the previous year’s test score. I love this argument. This line of reasoning not only “misses the mark,” but it also indicates how disconnected VAM fans are from the realities on the ground. Let me explain. Yes, a student’s previous year’s standardized score serves as benchmark. Yes, VAMs capture the “growth” or “decline” of a student’s performance on the following year’s standardized test. However, here’s where the disconnect occurs: The reading passages on a standardized test are “on grade level!” To suggest that a student, who is multiple grade levels behind, can magically access the standardized test passages is an enormous misunderstanding of the intricacies of reading comprehension, i.e. language acquisition, content knowledge, etc. It’s far more realistic to evaluate teachers on a 1 ½ year growth model than a standardized test (grade level) model.

Why Not Measure ALL Teachers the Same?

For the life of me, I can’t understand why education policy “experts” insist on holding high poverty public school teachers to a higher standard than low poverty public school teachers. This is absurd! VAMs are nothing more than a tool to reward low poverty public school teachers, while punish high poverty public school teachers. We need to re-evaluate the evaluation. Rather than task high poverty public school teachers with raising a student’s performance more than three times in 7 ½ months of instruction, let’s task ALL teachers with raising a student’s reading comprehension (Lexile score) by more than 100 points each year. Would this not level the teacher evaluation playing field? Don’t we want a fairer teacher evaluation system?

The chart below illustrates such a proposal. First, I used the 2012 CCSS Text Measures* to benchmark the Lexile ranges, and it simply serves as a guide to building a fairer teacher evaluation system. Second, I premise this proposed evaluation system on reduced class sizes, in order for teachers to effectively differentiate reading texts based on student data, i.e. student readiness levels. Third, I use a 125 point growth formula per academic year. Fourth, the intended Lexile score (ultimate goal) is to prepare students for college leveled texts, which is an approximate score of 1400 (College Freshman). Finally, I use an incoming sixth grade student as an example in this proposed growth model. Now, let’s examine the chart.

There are five categories assigned to students: 1) Advanced, 2) Proficient, 3) Basic, 4) Below Basic, and 5) At Risk. For the purposes of this model, an “advanced” student is an incoming sixth grader who is reading above the fifth grade level Lexile range. A “proficient” student is an incoming sixth grader who is reading “on” the fifth grade level Lexile range. A “basic” student is an incoming sixth grader who is reading on a fourth grade level Lexile range. A “below basic” student is an incoming sixth grade student who is reading on a third grade level Lexile range. Finally, an “at-risk” student is an incoming sixth grade student reading on a second grade level Lexile range. The term “at risk” applies to an incoming sixth grade student who risks falling further behind, thus, without targeted intervention, will likely drop out of high school.

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Let’s examine both ends of the proposed growth model. One one end of the model, an “at-risk” incoming sixth grade student is in dire need of targeted remediation. Assessing an “at-risk” incoming sixth grade student’s reading comprehension skills on a grade level standardized test is an affront to the education profession. This approach is unfair to the student and the teacher. Rather than waste valuable time and resources administering a “one-size-fits-all,” high-stakes test, we should focus on administering a leveled test, which sets an appropriate target of a 125 Lexile point growth by the end of the sixth grade. If this targeted assessment approach repeats throughout this student’s secondary school level career, then he or she stands a better chance at reaching the “1400″ target Lexile score. Thus, rather than fall further behind, and potentially drop out of high school, this student can experience small victories along the way towards his or her collegiate career.

On the other side of the model, an “advanced” incoming sixth grade student is in need of rigorous texts, and not simply “on grade materials.” Rather than task teachers with making sure this student remains “on or above” grade level, these students need a test based on 125 Lexile point growth. If this targeted approach repeats throughout this student’s secondary school level career, then he or she will comprehend well beyond the “1400″ target Lexile score. In other words, not only will this student be ready for his or her Freshman year, but also surpass the minimum requirements. All too often, teachers in low poverty public schools, i.e. Ward 3 public middle school, enjoy the opportunity to teach students who are performing “on or above” grade level. Although teaching is a challenging profession regardless of a school’s socio-economic status, it’s highly unfair to assume all classrooms are equal. They’re not! Rather than use a system that is inherently designed to choose “winners and losers,” education policy “experts” need to create a fairer system that evaluates ALL teachers the same.

Regardless of a student’s starting point, every teacher, needs to raise his or her students’ reading comprehension skills by 125 Lexile points. Rather than employ a one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation system or high-stakes standardized test, we – professional educators – need to “meet” our students at their actual performance level to “move” them toward the goal: prepare students for a successful collegiate career! Then, and only then, we will have a fair, professional teacher evaluation system.