Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Another little "rant" about school culture. Sorry folks, it's what I do. And candidly, having taught Art for the previous three years, I'm a bit shell-shocked by the changes that have occurred from my time of last being "in the classroom" as we call it.

The whole thing gets my crusading type spirit in a perpetual spin, something like a Katrina that keeps coming over, again and again. We have these violent stormy periods, a calm while the virtual eye passes, and then another violent beating. However, in "education world" Katrina keeps changing course and turning around to re inflict her ravages....over....and over...and over.

We were all called upon to come up with a presentation based on our findings in the DATA. I did what I was asked to do. I've been looking at the DATA all year. It DOES help. I won't deny that. But, I wonder at times if we've become so DATA-driven that we've forgotten to recognize the big picture of humanity. I'm talking about the way we relate to students as well as the way administrators relate to teachers here. Oh well. What do I know? ;)

Here's the extra "essay" I wrote and turned in with my findings.

What Data Can’t Tell You

Data is a wonderful tool. The data I’ve been able to retrieve on my students has assisted me a great deal in my ability to serve them and meet their academic needs. I can easily pull up a chart or a graph and locate exact areas of weakness and strength for individuals and groups. I can group them by class, ethnicity, economic status, gender, and, I imagine, if I were so determined, I could rank them by the number of hairs on their heads and come up with some sort of correlation between that number and the data. However, there are many things that the data can’t tell you.

I have no data pertaining to the levels of trust, relationship, self-worth, conflicted emotions, anger, or difficult circumstances that my students face. The aforementioned data is vital to my ability to meet the academic needs of my students. This is data that I must collect, over time, and through the relationship that I build with them on a daily basis. This is data that can make or break me as a teacher. This data doesn’t make or break me based on how many circles they color in correctly on a standardized test. That will come. It makes or breaks me based on whether or not my students feel valued and worth listening to as an individual. While I work diligently to ensure that each of my students achieve the best possible score they are capable of achieving on the test, it means little to me if they put more value on what the test says about them than in what they themselves know they are capable of achieving outside the walls of my classroom and the bubbles on the test.

The test is only one step in their journey toward success. Many of them will become successful in spite of a lack of ability to achieve great scores, and many of them will fail in spite of the fact that they’ve always tested well. This is where I can make the most difference for my students. Somewhere within that cavern of those who will succeed no matter what and those who may fail in spite of everything, I can be a variable that causes a change. It is my job to bridge that cavern; to provide lifelines of hope and help, and the value of giving their best efforts in spite of, and sometimes because of, the difficulties they face.

The data is a piece of that puzzle for me. It provides me with hard evidence of who is testing well and who is not. More often than not, it merely confirms what I all ready know. And yet, confirmation is a valuable thing. Affirmation is valuable as well. Attached is an email I received from one of my students just this morning when I arrived at school. This student is articulate and successful. She will achieve success no matter what and in spite of anything I may do in class. However, in her ability to articulate, and because of the level of confidence she has in herself, she affirms what I am doing in my classroom each day. None of it is based on data. It’s based on trust, relationship, and a willingness to be transparent and honest.

I believe that my students will do well on the TAKS test. The data that’s been provided to me this year has been a wonderful tool in my ability to achieve that goal. However, I’ve learned much more about how to help my students, individually, by knowing them as individuals. I’ve created a level of trust and confidence in which they are free to question, explore, and even make mistakes in my classroom. In doing so, I’ve learned more from them this year than I could possibly have taught them. And there’s no test, no bubbles, not even an essay that could completely describe what’s occurred.

love and grace,

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Peterson Toscano said...

what a lovely and creative response. You express so beautifully the magic of teaching. Really it is like magic sometimes and requires so much love and respect.

Jay said...

Wow. That's very well done, Pam. One of the reasons I'm planning to teach high school English as opposed to middle school is that I don't want to have to do those horrible standardized tests. Well, I thought they were horrible. At least you seem to have found some bright side to them.

kurt_t said...

I couldn't agree more. I think it's so deplorable the way education in this country has devolved into training for standardized test-taking.

And then there's all this application of demographic data to try to even out the rates of success in each ethnic/cultural group.

Well, the big problem with that approach, as I see it, is you're starting out with a system where failure is one of the end products. If everybody scored 100 percent, then a 100 percent score would become meaningless, right? You'd have to redesign the whole testing process.

Our whole educational system is based on the idea that education is a competition. The student's goal is to win. But you can't have a competition, and you can't have winners without losers.

I could go on and on.

grace said...

Peterson: Thanks, friend! While I am a really "strict" teacher in many ways...I'm constantly praying for opportunities to show them the servant-heart of Christ. I sound like I'm "tooting my own horn" here...but I'm not. It's just that Jesus had this "way" about him and it's the best example of teaching I could possibly follow.

Jay: Where is this magical land where standardized testing ends after middle school???? I've never heard of such a thing!
Goody for you if you go to such a place! :)

Kurt: Yep. Yep. Yep.

Greg said...

I always faced issues with testing in school. From elementary through my undergrad work. I always attributed it to personality and temprament. I know that I can do anything, but other people might be better than me and that's ok.

Lately I've played Soduku on one of those video game machines. I've never been fast and I've only proved to confirm that. While I was playing, having someone faster than me offering me solutions and answers only agitated the slow, calculated person that I am. I think offering a means of engaging with the diversity of learning styles and speeds would be amazing as well.

I do a lot of work with my church and I know that I would measure failure in loss of relationship. It is those items of trust and such that are so critical and that can't be measured. Many people can't be trusted and they continue to speak things that only prove they cannot be trusted. We all suffer in common and we all desire community. A line from one of my favourite songs:

"Now there's no point in placing the blame, and you should know I suffer the same, if I lose you my heart will be broken"

That is love, it's not concerned with affirming any and all, but it's concerned with relationship.

grace said...

Greg: Thanks for your insight. You're right....relationship is key. The cliche' that's now become popular in education, and is very true, is this: "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

love and grace,

Jay said...

Where is this magical land where standardized testing ends after middle school????

It's called North Carolina, sweetie. Except for the 10th grade writing test, you're pretty much in the clear in the English department. Other subjects are another matter, of course.