Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 21 2013

Last year’s scores!

So how’d it go?

Well, it’s now Year 3 in my placement school, same grade, same classroom, but I’ll tell about that later. I want to just do a little review on last year, now that the almighty test scores are in.

Those of you who’ve been with me for a while might remember that last year, my kiddos came into my 4th grade room with the worst  and second-to-worst 3rd grade test scores in the state of New Mexico. 5% proficient in Reading, 12% in Math. 60% of the grade was at the Beginning Steps (i.e. worst) level of testing in reading. I had 7 nonreaders, out of 19. Only 2 kids could subtract with regrouping.

So how did they end up?

I am beyond proud of those kids. By January, all 7 of my nonreaders were readers, meaning they could all decode and at least partially understand the texts we were working with. Move the text down a grade level and they could totally understand it. Most of all, their attitude was changed. My kiddos went from confused most of the time and not really liking school, to enthusiastic, engaged students who actively asked for help when they didn’t understand. They worked so hard, with such dedication. We talked all year about our core values of Empathy, Integrity, Respect, Perseverance and Drive, and they honestly taught me more about Perseverance than I taught them.

None of that made me confident that their test scores would be remarkable. But they were.

In Math, they went from 12% proficiency to 46% proficiency. In Reading, not as much growth, but from 5% to 18%. More impressively, the percent of kids who were in the Beginning Steps range dropped by 40%.

This is awesome. The New Mexico School Report Card system is dumb, because 90 out of 100 points are directly based on test scores, but we moved 1.5 grade levels on that metric, from a low D to a high C. Absurdly, because of our growth we became the highest-ranked elementary school in Gallup. My kids’ scores went from last in the state to solidly middle. They rocked it.


It’s a double-edged sword, because we as a school are all celebrating this growth to being the “best elementary school in the district” without anyone really looking at the numbers or interpreting what it means. Our principal gave this big speech about how “what we are doing is working” and how it shows we are delivering “quality instruction.” A 1st grade teacher at my school introduced herself as a “top-ranked educator” to my roommate.

But the truth is, the only grade that showed growth was mine. If you look at the numbers, all our points on this report card came from growth, and only 3rd-5th grade are tested. 3rd grade can’t show growth because it’s the first year they take the test, and 5th grade’s scores actually went slightly down. All our “school-wide success” is based on my kiddos, who really only grew so much because they had been completely failed by every year before and it was the first year of decent education they received (which doesn’t necessarily speak to my colleagues…most of the teachers they had were long term subs or people who later left). And honestly, we didn’t get to truly impressive levels of achievement, it just looks good because they started so low.

It’s tricky because in my mind, it seems inevitable that we will not have that same growth this year. For one thing, my kids this year have started off behind, but not nearly so far as last year’s bunch. That lowers the potential for growing a ton. Plus, we went from 3 classes of 18 last year to 2 classes of 25 this year, which means less individual time for kids and probably less growth. And the 5th grade might make growth, but probably not as much as they made last year. Growth looks less likely than last year. And the other points, which are based on objective achievement (i.e. percent proficient), were never going to be ours because our levels of achievement are objectively bad.

Maybe this seems pessimistic. I don’t mean to say I don’t have hope; I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how quickly my kids this year are grasping concepts and I have great hopes for how far they can get by the end of the year. But on a test-score metric, I think we’re going be less impressive this year.

Right now everyone at my school is so happy and morale is so high. It might be undeserved morale, but it’s still a happier place to work. And it’s leading to nice things: more collaboration, better relationships with parents and students, and so on. Our principal is making all these big promises about moving to a B this year. I am just worried that the rug will be pulled out from under all that when we don’t get the same scores.

One Response

  1. Ms. Math

    Nice work with your kids! I can absolutely see why it is hard to take the metric the district used very seriously.
    Just do your best this year, and if the school is not ranked highly again it will hopefully inspire them to reflect and improve :)

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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