Equity & Diversity Opinion

Hitting the Data Wall: Measurement-Centered Instruction takes hold in High Poverty Schools

By Anthony Cody — May 21, 2012 1 min read
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A newspaper report from Mobile, Alabama, describes the system clearly.

Color-coded sticky notes on a wall in the "data room" at Mobile's Gilliard Elementary School bear the names of every pupil who is struggling in reading or math, has been absent too often, or has gotten into trouble for misbehaving.
A yellow note, for example, shows a kindergartner who failed a reading test.
A lime-green note shows a second-grader who made a D on his report card.
A light-blue note shows a fifth-grader who fared poorly on the state's standardized math test.
In all, there are 125 names on a dry-erase board that takes up one long wall in a conference room at the school on Dauphin Island Parkway. Some show up in more than one category.
Earlier in the year, the board reflected the names of 280 students out of the total 713 at the high-poverty school. Now, more than half of the names are gone, following intensive intervention and, in some cases, counseling to determine whether something was amiss at home.

The data used for this wall of data is drawn from report cards and tests, lots of tests. There are quarterly standardized tests that count towards student report card grades. And now the school has also purchased the Star Enterprise testing system, which provides reading and math tests three times a year.

This is layered on top of the standardized tests in April, and the practice tests throughout the year, and the pep rallies when the tests approach.

The schools in Mobile County were flagged by an investigative series published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which suggested there might be cheating in places where test scores gains seemed unusually high.

Clearly there is intense pressure on these schools to improve their scores. And that pressure is being passed along to the children.

One thing confused me in the article. It says:

In the data room, the names of struggling students are placed in one of two categories: Tier 2 means they're almost performing up to grade level; Tier 3 means they have a long way to go.
These children don't know that they've been labeled as such, or that their names are on sticky notes in the data room.
Tier 2 students receive 20 minutes of focused help with their classroom teacher every day, either individually or in groups of two or three. That's known as a "dip," meaning the students get another chance to learn what the entire class is working on.
Those in Tier 3 get the same "dip" as those in Tier 2, and they also leave class daily to work individually with a reading or math coach, an interventionist, a counselor or a special-education teacher.
Students in these two groups also stay at school an hour longer each afternoon for further intervention, and they're tested every three or four weeks in a process known as "progress monitoring."

What I wonder about is how a student could experience almost an hour of daily focused instruction including a pullout, plus an hour of after school intervention, and not be aware that they are in some special category? They may not see the data wall in their classrooms, but this special treatment must be very apparent to the students and all their peers.

This school is high poverty - 98% of the students qualify for free and reduced price lunches. It is these schools that have the largest number of students that do poorly on tests, and thus are experiencing the greatest pressure to increase test scores. The scores are going up, but you have to wonder what has been the cost?

How are these students experiencing their school? What does learning mean in this environment? It appears that learning has been defined as one’s ability to accurately fill in bubbles and answer questions.

I would love to hear from teachers who are experiencing this sort of measurement-centered learning environment. How have you found that it impacts your students? Are they being served by the prompt intervention? Are they aware that they are in some special category? How does this affect their attitude towards school?

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