Recently we were given the results of Iowa Assessments (the standardized test in our state) for third and fourth grade students. I spent some time with teachers reviewing this data while examining areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, a routine exercise that we go through every year. As I was looking at the data and the blue, green, and red colored cells on the spreadsheets, I couldn't help but think of a conversation that I had with one our instructional coaches a few weeks ago...
We are surrounded by data, numbers, targets, and goals that drive our work and decision making each day. I am a firm believer in data and continuous improvement and feel that we have taken big steps in using the information we have to build on strengths and address deficiencies. We utilize an assessment wall at Farley Elementary School that takes into consideration all available reading assessments to give the most accurate representation of where our students stand and what supports they need in the area of reading. It is a great start to understanding the reading needs of students and allocating appropriate resources, but certainly doesn't address everything.
Roamn was a Division 1 baseball player at the University of Northern Iowa, and truly one of the purest hitters I have ever seen. He now serves as a dynamite instructional coach at Farley Elementary School and as we were talking about various assessments, reading behaviors, and placement, he opened my eyes to an analogy that made complete sense. He said to me, "Dan, you know if scouts just looked at my batting average during my time in college, I would be getting paid to play baseball right now." "Unfortunately, I don't run nearly as fast as needed and strike out too much." This hit me so hard in thinking about the assessment wall and how important it is to look at multiple measures to determine the success of a reader (not simply isolated skills such as student's fluency, etc), and also about the bigger picture and what is used to measure the success of schools and students in general.
Schools have received a great deal of criticism in recent years and it has been said that we're failing. Based on what? A percentage of students that are scoring in the proficient and advanced levels on a standardized test given on one day. I'm fortunate to work in two schools that achieve at fairly high levels on Iowa Assessments; however, this means nothing to me in the grand scheme of things.
What matters most is how our students, their families, and community feel about our schools and their experiences. I care about family engagement, their belief in what we are doing, and the partnership in learning. I care about the authentic learning opportunities that our students experience, and how they have the chance to learn about respect, empathy, passion, connection, and realize that they have an adult in their corner at all times. I care about our staff members and how they model kindness, hard work, perseverance, mutual respect, and lifelong learning.
Accountability measures are important, and do keep us focused on getting better every day; however, we must keep standardized assessment in perspective. I challenge all educators and those outside of the profession to look deeper than an assessment given on one day or items that measure one skill when determining the success of a student or school system. School is about so much more and our kids are relying on us.