By Peggy Crouch
It’s nearly time for another school year and I am trying to figure out how to best teach reading to my 5th grade students. My district and the state have been “collecting data” to improve my teaching, but I have not been privy to that data. What am I to do? Not that I believe that the state tests are reliable data to use as an instructional starting point, but isn’t that the purpose of data? Isn’t it supposed to drive instruction?
One of the suggestions of the New York VIVA TASK force, in which I participated, regarding teacher evaluation was that teachers must have access to the state and district data. Teacher access should be in a timely manner and should coincide with an open dialogue between the teacher and the instructional leader of the school: The principal. Last October, I had a brief dialogue with my principal regarding my new students and was shown (not given, shown) their scores from 4th grade. (Yes, only their scores). In other words I was able to see the scores of the previous year’s teacher, but was given no specific data. Nor was I given the results from my own students, and therefore, not able to evaluate my instructional practices.
Since 40% of my teacher evaluation is based in state exam scores, shouldn’t I have access to the results of my efforts, the complete results? I need a breakdown of each student’s test. I need to know if there is an area in which my instruction was weak, and I need to dialogue with my principal regarding these results. Now, again, I REALLY DO NOT PUT MUCH EMPHASIS ON STATE EXAMS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT TELL ME HOW MY STUDENTS HAVE GROWN AS A WHOLE CHILD. However, I am being evaluated on these results, and rightfully deserve time to reflect on my practice. Furthermore, I need to have time for meaningful discourse with my principal, the instructional leader, regarding my instructional practices.
Meaningful discourse has not happened for two reasons: 1) The state has yet to release the data and it is the end of July. 2) By the time my principal receives the data (Mid September/October) from the district office, we are all on overload and have little time to reflect. I would prefer to meet with my principal in the summer when there is time to reflect, but apparently that is not an option.
My initial developmental reading assessment (DRA) is the data that drives most of my reading instruction. I can tell from the DRA what strategies my students use effectively, and with what strategies they need support. My ongoing observations and conferences with students on a daily basis are also effective in determining where my students need extra support. DRA’s, however, can only be effective if the teacher is properly trained in using them. Ahhhh! Properly trained. Well that’s another discussion altogether!
Peggy Crouch is a 5th grade teacher in Mt. Vernon, New York. She was a member of the New York VIVA task force.