First thought: These fucking suck.
Second thought: Holy shit! We didn’t make AYP!
In language arts the proficient and advanced scores are low, only cracking the magic AYP benchmark in seventh grade. Math looks better, but not as good as the year previous. No, not nearly as good.
05-06 Results: ELA 36% Math 44%
06-07 Results: ELA 30% Math 38%
We did make AYP. Barely.
Not long ago I wrote about paging through CST results for schools and districts with demographics like ours, and how everyone seems to be hitting that same 1/3 percent proficient ceiling. Based on last year's results, institutional knowledge, and mission trajectory, I thought we were positioned to escape that 1/3 ghetto. I thought we could take steps toward the fifty percent mark, the eventual 2/3 mark that results in the mythical 800 API. It's not that those things are impossible, currently, but we took a step back, and it sucks.
The sky isn't falling. Five hundred of our seven hundred students were new to the school last year, a plurality performing in that Below Basic and Far Below Basic range. We expanded to include sixth graders, who had not been on our campus for the previous three school years. Accordingly we added 1/3 new staff, the majority composed of first year TFAers. We experimented with new means of scheduling, and yet another way to bring increased instructional minutes to our students.
There's a lot of environmental complications that shows these results in a rather positive light. At the start of last year, I would have predicted a hold-steady or a small-dip. It was a survival year, as is this one (to a lesser extent). Still, somewhere along the way I got to thinking that we could be looking at incremental improvement, not merely holding ground. But the numbers are here, and we did not even hold that ground. Without beating ourselves or each up over some backward sliding, we need to critical examine our practice so that this does not become a trend.
Rigor The days when time was demonstrably wasted in our classrooms are well behind us and good riddance to that tired shit. Kids work. They work all day, in every class, so much so that I think we're noticing an up-swing in skipping and cutting precisely as a result of this -- you can't come to school and hang-out. Still, the constant work does not always mean that students are working at the highest levels, or pushed to achieve at the highest levels. These are difficult waters to navigate when the vast majority of your school is working in intervention models, constantly seeking to hit on the right balance of remediation, language acquisition, and standards mastery. I believe we need to teach less to ensure they learn more, but man, that's a fine line to walk.
Choice Teach less so they learn more, but how much of which topics do you hit em with? The POY put forth a theory on instructional obesity/ anorexia, wherein kids grow fat on certain areas of class (grammar) while failing to get the required nutrition in other key areas (informational text). We need to monitor these trends in our instruction and evaluate our teaching accordingly. I'm working on developing a grid to record how many hits my kids get on given topics -- everything from direct instruction, explicit review, embedded application, and so on -- something that will enable the conversation to move beyond the pacing guide, teacher's edition, and a general feeling about where time was spent.
Numbers This summer I watched raw teachers (raw as onions) consistently struggle to engage the whole class in instruction, in accessing the material, in responding and working through the central learning objectives. This is really easy to observe in 20-student econ class where the teacher has physically shifted instruction toward the two kids who respond, or the six-student elementary class, where the kid who has already read the Open Court story is spewing the answers, but maybe it's harder in the middle school class of 33, where you're getting hits from a majority. Maybe you're getting interactions from 15, or 20, or 25. But maybe you're not getting all 33. Maybe you're not using the strategies that allow and require all 33 to consistently hit the objectives.
I hope we engage the reflection and analysis piece, and not too readily reach for the host of explaining environmental factors. That's never been a part of who we are as a school or how we approach teaching and learning. Let's not start now.