Driving Lessons: Putting the Data-Driven Map in Perspective

By Kathleen Sullivan

Data is defining the self worth of our children, the value of a dedicated, compassionate caring teacher, and the marketability of our homes. Data has proven to be invaluable as a tool to identify weak spots in curriculum and also as a way to identify students in need of academic intervention. But with the focus on data, something else happened. Education leaders, administrators, and teachers stopped talking about students as individuals; instead we began to hold data meetings and we started to refer to students simply as “above grade level”, “at grade level”, “progressing, but below grade level”, or “needs improvement”. At the same time, new students test scores began to be the first thing we checked to see how their scores would affect overall data for the upcoming testing season

Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, an aggressive education reform organization, appears to believe the only way to measure student and teacher success is through test scores. StudentsFirst recently released a report grading states on how they are working to elevate the teaching profession, empower parents, spend wisely, and govern well. Florida and Louisiana were at the top of the list. The problem is that the initiatives being promoted by StudentsFirst sounds great in theory but education reform goes well beyond test scores and data.

We need an education reality check. I recently “liked” a Facebook posting that read “I Care More About the Person My Students Become Than The Scores On The Tests They Take”. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about test scores and data. It does mean that society needs people who have integrity and character. Test scores are important as a way of measuring what students are learning. Does it measure smart? What does smart mean? Does it strictly mean a high test score? Personally, I think data and test scores are part of the puzzle. Students can explain a concept but often can’t write it. Students can demonstrate a concept by creating a project but they may not be able to read a word or understand a word on a standardized test and lose points.

We need to broaden the way we think about and use data so we can make sure we’re giving each student what they need to succeed. Some students need extra academic supports to increase their capacity to learn. Students with learning, physical, and emotional disorders also need special supports.

If we invest in supporting our children academically and emotionally, we will invest in children who can not only answer questions right but also can face challenges and seek solutions. Let’s figure out how to measure those skills too.

Kathleen Sullivan teaches 5th grade science at a public school in Malden, Massachusetts.

A teacher on Newtown shooting: A time for somber reflection

Lauren Rosseau, a teacher killed in Newtown, CT.   Source: AP

By Kathleen Sullivan

I’m still trying to digest the news from today. As teacher, it is truly the unfathomable. How could this happen to these babies? How does this happen in a school where we are suppose to feel safe and where we are entrusted with people’s most precious gifts of life, their children.

It doesn’t matter if you are in an urban community where gun crime seems commonplace or a quaint, seemingly safe New England town. The truth is, if someone is set on committing such a heinous act,it will happen.   Today, I had my 5th graders and a group of kindergartners in my room at the end of the day for “book buddies.” This innocent interaction between these two groups had extra special meaning today. The “big kids” were taking care of the “little kids” and we, as teachers, watched over them.

There is no sense in trying to “make sense” of this.  How do we make sense of the beauty of natural wonders? How do we make sense of one human being causing so much pain to other human beings? No answers really suffice. They just are.

Families have lost loved ones. A nation mourns for those children and the others lost today.  A time for reflection…

Kathleen Sullivan teaches 5th grade science at a public school in Malden, Massachusetts.

Video: Ms. Playford’s class connects culltures

Our Teacher leader Kathleen Sullivan sent us this video of her colleague’s class. Watch it and be inspired by her students!

Sullivan explains that Rebecca Playford’s second grade Sheltered English Immersion class represents the cultural collaboration taking place daily at the Salemwood School.  These students featured in the video reflect the full diversity of their Malden community.

These students demonstrate what happens when barriers between people are removed so they see can each other as friends, classmates, and neighbors. They remind us we are one world, one people, and one city all reflecting a common vision of  community, a hometown for us all.