In Part I of "When Goals and Practices Collide" I shared a scenario at my school. We have a quarterly benchmark assembly where kids receive medallions for scoring "advanced" or "proficient" on district benchmark tests in math and English Language Arts. Then student names and class pictures with only the "competent students" and their teachers are posted on a cafeteria wall.
Here are some of my questions as I struggle to see how this practice will help my school reduce the achievement gap.
So how do our practices support this goal?
Data chats: Yes, I agree that students should be aware of their scores, set goals together and brainstorm the paths to achieving those goals. Teachers meet with students after every benchmark to discuss the results.
My question: Have teachers been trained how to engage kids in a discussion that motivates them and doesn’t give them the idea that they will never “catch up?” Wouldn’t it be better to meet with kids, discover how they learn, brainstorm times they have been successful in learning something new, and train them how to generalize this way of learning to other subjects? Then they can find strategies to help them learn and set “meaningful” and attainable goals for themselves! Isn’t it about the kids becoming engaged and responsible for their learning? I think we need to help kids learn the reflective skill of meta-cognition. I am not sure all teachers at my school even know what that means.
Awards: My principal alleges that giving awards motivates students because when they see their peers receiving an award, they will want one too and thus, will begin working hard.
My question: How does seeing your best friend ( if you are even friends with such smart kids) get an award give you the tools, skills and mindset that will help you get there too? If I see a peer get an award, I might just think: Well he is smarter than I am. He always gets good grades. Those awards aren’t for me. I am the kid sent to the office every day because I have checked out. Look at me! I know I won’t be proficient .. I am smart enough to know that my 55% score is beyond hope. My teacher tells me my score and sets a goal for me, but how do I know how to reach it. I think next time we have one of those assemblies, I will be “sick” that day. Better yet, I will be sick the next time we have a benchmark test. AND the day of the assembly.
Supposedly, according to the rhetoric I hear in staff meetings, we are also trying to raise the scores of kids at the top. Really? By giving medallions for making it to the status quo?
What if we gave kids who made significant growth the opportunity to meaningfully engage with a kid who was struggling. What if we modeled and truly believed that each learner in a class had something to contribute? What if we gave that student who is “below basic” an opportunity to share a skill and talent that he possesses?
Perhaps then we might be on our way to provide the environment where true learning occurs.
Safe environment for learning and taking risks: If we want kids to challenge themselves and grow, rewarding them for doing well on a test gives them great reason to play it safe and not really venture out in learning. If they have been "on track" since the lower grades, they usually keep their advanced or proficient status. Do they even know how to challenge themselves when the test is "easy" for them. Do we want to give them the message that they have arrived? They want to keep their reputations as the “advanced” kids , so why even try to learn anything? It's much safer to be the big fish in the little pond.
If you have made it this far and can relate to any of this, please leave a comment below! In my next post, I will tell you what happened when I spoke up about this practice at my school. Stay tuned!