Setting growth targets for students
I have never really been a football fan, but now that I have a daughter at University of Michigan, I find it impossible not to pay attention, at least a little. As I wrote this article, an Ann Arbor steakhouse was offering patrons a percentage discount by whatever point spread Michigan might win over Rutgers. Michigan won 78-0, which is a little more than was expected.
How did the restaurant decide to make this offer? Did [the owners] look at data and then gamble how much they could afford to give up in profits versus the advertising they would get? Looking at past games with Rutgers, coupled with the individual players’ abilities, could they have predicted the point spread?
As I wrote this article, teachers in the Cleveland Heights- University Heights schools were setting targets for how much our students will grow this year. Teachers give a pre-test, analyze the results, look at each student’s academic history, and then try to guess how these students will do on a post-test in March. This might seem clear-cut, but it is not as scientific as it sounds.
To start with, the tests are different from one year to the next, so there is little basis to gauge how students might score three-quarters of the way through the school year. Even with all that is known about students, it is impossible to know how students will score six months later. Teachers can guess. Teachers always have hopes and dreams for their students, but there are many variables that are unpredictable. Illness, family circumstances, and both positive and negative interactions with one’s classmates and teachers are among factors that might help or hurt student learning.
Children are not predictable, mechanical bots—nor should they be. In no way am I discounting the fact that teachers have an impact on learning. I believe that teachers can have a tremendous impact on student learning, I just have a hard time believing that they play the only role.
Patrick O’Donnell reported on the socioeconomic impact on learning in the Oct. 9 Plain Dealer. It is clear that socioeconomics are directly related to how students perform. This knowledge has been around for decades and is shown time after time, test upon test. The playing field is not level when used to compare teachers and school districts.
Setting growth targets may in fact be a wonderful activity for teachers to work on. Like many, I believe in setting goals so I can see if I achieve what I set out to do. The issue I have is that the state of Ohio’s teacher ratings is 50-percent based on these guesses.
Decoupling student growth measures from teacher evaluation is allowed by the new federal law Every Student Succeeds Act. Ohio could take away part of the pressure-cooker mentality for teachers, schools and students: Less testing, more learning.
Everyone wants everyone to be accountable. Rating schools, students, districts and communities based on guessing how students will test makes little sense. There has to be a better way.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.