This morning I attended a meeting where we looked at data. Specifically, we looked at our students reading levels and where they are at this point in the school year. Not surprisingly, given our approximately 100 students, 56% of them are at or above reading level for January. Not bad considering that the students fall into a nearly perfect bell curve. (Oh, and they are 6 years old and have varying levels of kindergarten and Pre-K experiences, speak a variety of languages and come from varying levels of economic statuses.) We were informed that our students in the lower levels (at-risk and emergency) need to grow at least 1 year and in some cases 2 years within the next 6 months. I'll state that again: Our youngest learners, our lowest "performing" students (on some arbitrary scale) need to grow up to 24 months within 6 months. That comes out to 30 days of growth every 7 days in order for that child to be considered "at grade level". We were informed that if they continue on their current trajectory, they will be behind.
WHAT?????? The solution apparently involves more and more intensive instruction and, of course, more assessment. Because, of course, the expectation is that 100% of our students will be at or above grade level, no matter what. I have no words.
Actually, I have a lot of words, but few of them are nice. In this age of data and assessment, the numbers have become more important than the children. We had discussions around our "reds" and our "yellows" and how to move them into "green". I pointed out that my "reds" are two boys who are new English language learners. They have moved up 4 levels in 4 months and are just beginning to speak. Their parents do not read or speak English at home. Most of the progress these boys have made is not measurable on paper; like making friends, answering questions, following directions, and smiling. They are beautiful children and I am so proud of how far they have already come since walking in my door. I cannot expect them to "grow 2 years in 6 months", but I can expect them to grow 6 months in 6 months. Maybe even a little more, which to me is just bonus. Even then, they will be considered "emergency" and "at risk".
I thought about that meeting on the way home today. I also thought about my own child. When my daughter was in 2nd grade, the teacher mentioned that she was "a little behind" on the reading testing scale. She said, "don't worry. She'll catch up. She's young". Well, she didn't catch up and in 3rd grade her teacher spent the entire 10 minutes of our allotted conference time telling me all the things that my daughter couldn't do and how far behind she was and how she may never "catch up". I remember being angry. At the end of the 10 minutes when she stood up to usher me out, I said to her, "Mrs. ________, you just spent 10 minutes telling me that my daughter is no good and hopeless. You never said one good thing about my child. So, let me tell you: My daughter is kind. She is respectful, empathetic, sweet and a hard worker. She is a rule follower and is loyal to those she loves. She is my heart and you have no right to tell me that she will never amount to anything. She is just 8 years old." Over the next few years, my daughter was put into AIS (Academic Intervention Services) and I was told that she was behind. Behind. Behind who? Behind what? I was told she had anxiety and that she could not get "participation points" because didn't raise her hand enough. Middle School started mediocre and I hired a tutor. My daughter worked hard and was eventually removed from AIS. In 7th and 8th grade she was on the honor roll every marking period and received awards for excellence. Today, she is a confident Sophomore with excellent grades and on track to be whatever she wants to be.
My point is that we have to stop looking at children as numbers and go back to looking at what they are doing in the moment on the continuum of life. As a parent, I know that children grow in fits and spurts. They grow over time. This is not a race to a benchmark. This is a journey with ups and downs, highs and lows, and over peaks and valleys. What my child could or couldn't do in third grade was not an indicator of what she is doing now or what she may do in her adult life. I have taught 6 year olds for a very long time. I have seen all kinds of kids and know that at six, growth is not often measurable. I keep saying that I am growing people, both my own and my students, not numbers and not data points. Being "college and career ready" is just a buzzword that means nothing. I want my kids and my students to be "life ready". That means that I want them to be kind, be problem solvers, be flexible, be adaptable, be empathetic, be curious, be joyful, be respectful, be responsible, be brave, be honest, be confident, be loving and be loved. If they can be all that, they will never be behind.