Lighting the Corners of My Mind On Fire – OR What I’d Really Like To Do With Your Pile of Data

A recent phone call:

Big Momma Mimi:I’ve loved all your posts recently honey.
Me: I have nothing to write about and tomorrow is only day twelve. I am seconds away from blogging about what happened to me at the chiropractor’s office last week or maybe the laundry. But somehow, I don’t think that’s educationally relevant.
Big Momma Mimi: Well, we’re doing Progress Monitoring right now. You could always write about that.


Ah, yes. “Progress Monitoring” or some idiot’s genius alternative to the words “Data Collection.” (Also known as “A Period Of Time When No Observable Teaching Occurrs Because The Teacher Is Lost In A Flurry of Checklists, Graphs, Running Records and Number Two Pencils.”) At my school, there were some assessments for which we had to “monitor progress” every two weeks. TWO WEEKS! So, if it takes me two days to complete the testing…

Wait, that sounds like a great number story! Ready? Get those pencils out!

“A teacher teaches for for 6 hours every day. She works five days a week. Every ten days she has to take four to six hours away from her regular teaching to Progress Monitor her at risk students, who need more instructional time than any other group. If she takes four to six hours of teaching away every ten days, how much teaching time is left over?

(Furious scribbling.)
(Gets up for eraser.)
(Chews on end of pencil.)

Answer: Not enough, friends, not enough. Certainly not enough to warrant “Progress Monitoring” when really children just need to be making process.

Now, I’m not against assessing. Not at all. I LOVED sitting back and looking at how my friends did on certain assessments, reveling in their progress. I mean, nothing makes a teacher feel better than seeing those numbers go up, up, up! On the flip side, I also loved sitting with a well-designed assessment, a cup of coffee, a stack of Post Its and my beloved Sharpies, thinking about ways in which my children’s mistakes were going to direct my future teaching. I relished creating new small groups and making new plans of action for struggling friends.

Here’s what I didn’t like.

Assessments that were collosal wastes of my time. And my friends time.

Assessments that were poorly designed. The same assessments that my Super Colleagues and I volunteered to upgrade, on our own time, so that they were better reflective of our students’ needs and progress. The same assessments that the Bacon Hunter insisted that we continue to use in their original form for no apparent reason other than teachers should just do what they’re told. (Kind of makes you want to stab someone with your recnetly sharpened lucky test-taking number two pencil, doesn’t it?)

Or, assessments given as part of a good old dog and pony show.

So if you are out there somewhere dutifully monitoring progress, collecting data, pulling your hair out – whatever you want to call it – my heart goes out to you.

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  • Good timing…I have to give an "end of unit" test this week, so the students will be prepared for the final exam, which is next week. Yup, sounds nuts to me, too.

    January 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm
  • Our DIBELS window will be closing this week, so I've been up to my neck in testing since we got back from break. We'll be finishing the benchmark testing just in time to start our progress monitoring.

    My poor babies are just tested to death!! My intensive group (the lowest group) must be progress monitored every two weeks, at a minimum. The strategic (middle) group gets it every 3 weeks, the benchmark kids once a month. It's just crazy!!

    January 12, 2010 at 10:46 pm
  • Assessment. Where to begin?

    In our school board (Southern Ontario) we recently embarked on a new process called Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP). Essentially it is an approximately 6 week plan where teachers are to move students up the achievement ladder. You begin with a baseline assessment to determine where all the students are achieving in a specific area (eg. inferring meaning while reading non-fiction texts). Lessons are taught focusing on this particular skill/concept and students are grouped according to their needs. Every two weeks updated data from formative assessments are brought to the divisional PLC (professional learning community) where results can be discussed, effective strategies shared, and moderated marking can be done on difficult to assess pieces. Whew!

    Ideally, this is an effective process which should be able to cater to the needs of all students. The one variable that never seems to change in any of these discussions is "time" (does this mean it's a constant then?)

    I also posted something about the issue of time and becoming techno-savvy in the classroom. I'd appreciate comments 🙂

    January 12, 2010 at 10:46 pm
  • I'm lucky… I have a Title One person to do my progress monitoring… I'm grateful because I don't want my kindergartners associating ME with such mundane testing.

    January 13, 2010 at 1:30 am
  • Mrs. Mimi, you're doing a great job with the NaBloPoMo! I love reading you every day. =) You can do it!

    Ricardo, it sounds like you are using Response to Intervention, a.k.a., RtI. It works if you can mix up your ids by ability and programs, and have extra teachers to make small groups for the intensive and strategic kids.

    We somehow got lucky this year and Admin actually dropped one of our quarterly standardized assessments. Can you believe it? 'Cause we still can't. Alas, they delivered the winter one today, and we'll be giving it next week. I hope no one leaves the bubble sheet blank like two kids did for the baseline test! Doh.

    January 13, 2010 at 1:30 am
  • It's insane…educational malpractice.

    Testing is not teaching…

    January 13, 2010 at 1:30 am
  • Perfect timing as we are in our AIMSweb window now. This is our first year with AIMSweb so maybe the benefits will become apparent at a later time?!? All I know is my kiddos have a bit of backslide from a nearly two week Christmas break followed by a two day school week due to snowdays and they're taking my precious teaching time to assess so we can compare to national norms? We just did end of quarter testing before Christmas. The kids are worn out. I'm grumpy. None of us are at our peak. How accurate can it be?

    January 13, 2010 at 3:21 am
  • I'm not a big fan of testing, even though I get why we do it. The tests the district wants take a week at the beginning of the year. The state tests take about two weeks out of April. The end of the year tests take another week. I'm still never sure how I'm supposed to get through all the math, and it would probably be helpful if I saw the results of the tests that take up so much time. Now I'm also teaching a high school class, so I have to come up with a semester final. My high school kids suggested skipping the test. Our "classroom" is on Moodle, and everything is paperless, since they submit assignments via Google Docs. I'll figure something out, but as I pointed out to the kids, I have to submit the final to the office. Maybe I'll create it on Moodle, and enroll my administrator as a student so she can check out my Moodle page, too.

    January 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm
  • What gets me about the benchmark testing is that we do it for the middle of year in January. After a two-week break where many students stop reading at all. We've been progress monitoring and it's so frustrating not only to us but also to the kids when these scores drop just because of the timing.

    Our school has had consistently low test scores for the past few years, so we're in the midst of what is basically restructuring. That includes a model where the curriculum is broken down into 3-week chunks. We work on those standards for 3 weeks, and then assess on that standard. It works because we have (through Title I and stimulus funding) lots of teachers, but it's a lot to do. After each 3-week-chunk, there's a 'learning log' meeting where we discuss results with all of the teachers of the grade level, plus the principal and reading/math coaches. If not for 2 teachers per classroom (at least 1 certified), there's no way we could do all of this (plus the DIBELS on the same schedule as ChiTown Girl, and the beginning-end of year computer assessments) without detracting seriously from getting anything done in class.

    January 14, 2010 at 3:48 am
  • I am sitting in a training for AIMSweb right now! I'm trying to hold in my glee.

    January 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

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