Thursday, January 28, 2010

When Goals and Practices Collide

 Before I begin, let me set the stage. My school: a 600+ student school with a mixed population of students; Hispanic English Language Learners, African American students and low socioeconomic students are identified as our "achievement gap."  Our school  is on a mission to reduce this gap, but seems to be utilizing practices that many teachers and parents disagree with, yet are afraid to speak about.

So, where do I begin? With the floor to ceiling bulletin board that adorns our cafeteria framed by the words: GO GREEN? (Green is the color of proficient at my school and if you aren’t green, we pretty much don’t want you included in our results!)  Or do I share the scene that left an indelible image in my mind the other day: a former student, struggling since she was in my kindergarten class, staring at the "achievement" wall realizing that her name will likely not ever be listed under the labels : Proficient or Advanced.  Or maybe it’s the pictures of the smiling teachers, surrounded by only those kids deemed worthy enough to be in the picture with their “medals” validating their presence in the classroom. I am glad that I am not present at such an assembly where the "non" winners  sit on benches looking defeated as they realize they have not been invited to the "picture party."

I am appalled and heartbroken that I work at such a place: a school where equity is the new buzzword and I, on the Leadership Equity Team, am supposed to help my fellow teachers embark on a new journey where students needs are met and all students achieve.  Our mission: to close the achievement gap. Our  equity team steps thus far: writing a mission statement that charges us with the following:

Our Equity work at ****  is about always being mindful and reflective educators. We maintain a clear focus in everything we do and ensure that the students understand our objectives.  We are focused and direct, aware of what our students’ lives are like outside of school. On a daily basis, we implement purposeful and deliberate strategies aimed at the individual needs of our unique student population. We work to promote achievement for all!

Before I reveal the actions I took to try and speak up about this practice of posting student names, I ask you: What do you think about posting student names under the labels "Advanced" and "Proficient" based on quarterly benchmark tests. Do you think it inspires motivation? Do you know of any research supporting such practice? How does your school address the achievement gap? I think it's important to seek information from others when a practice incites our anger or ignites our passion.  In sharing with others we can think critically and  clarify our own perspectives.

Stay tuned for Part II of When Goals and Practices Collide. I hope to hear feedback before sharing the rest of my story.


  1. You are asking good, hard questions that do not have easy answers. It is not good to make students feel inadequate; but it is also not good to not recognize and reward achievement.

    By asking the questions you do you start the process of reflecting on the effects of common school actions and how they may not be conveying the messages we think we are sending.

  2. Thanks Deven. I agree that it's important to reward achievement; I am in full support of practices that encourage all kids to progress toward attainable goals. I believe the focus should be on "hard work" and making progress over time, not just a snapshot of a benchmark test. I look forward to more input from the PLN as I share the steps I took to ask those questions of our leadership. Thanks so much.

  3. Wow... love the questions you are asking. Every child should be honoured for the strengths they have... not just those with high test scores.

  4. Thanks so much. Every time I walked through the cafeteria and saw students looking at the wall, a little piece of my heart crumbled. Sounds dramatic, perhaps, but what kids believe about themselves determines what they will endeavor to accomplish!

  5. We thought the same thing about our awards ceremony and honour rolls. We have changed our awards ceremony and ended doing honour rolls. We now have an honouring ceremony where EVERY student is recognized, not just those that have high grades. The success we have had in less than a year is astounding!