The Day of the Data

At our school, the day before yesterday was the day of the data. The day the principal came out and told us the news. How much the students had gained. And how many hadn’t gained. Some, he said, had somehow gone backward.

We weren’t doing as well at the year before. He didn’t want to blame anyone. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but … he was going to give each teacher their classroom data and hopefully they would see what needed to happen. Soon.

You know how this works. If the students are on level, they’re green. If they’re more than a year behind, they’re red. If they’re significantly ahead, they’re blue, and if they’re behind, but not seriously, they’re yellow.

Young teachers looked at their data with anxiety. They were worried. Would this mean they wouldn’t be retained? What did all the colors on the chart mean?

I sat next to one young teacher and told her that with only two red, three green, a yellow and a blue, she was good.

“You don’t have to worry unless it’s all red,” I told her.

In the ranks of us, the veterans, some of us were uncomfortable. Was all this necessary? Did it make a difference? Would the teachers now teach harder knowing that the principal was tracking their students’ reading growth?

What if the teachers changed something and made it worse?

Teaching is such a difficult art, none of us were sure about much. We were pretty sure that the principal was telling us the truth, that the data was worse this year. We weren’t sure how much worse. We weren’t sure what exactly should be done. Teach more! Teach harder! Throw everything you can think of at them! Give prizes! Maybe even money if they can just get off red!

No. None of that would work. The only thing that would work, really, was refinement. Making the little things count. Targeting instruction to actual gaps. Making them stop playing in class. Walking up and down the rows, giving them teacher eye and telling them to do the work. Pointing out when the work wasn’t done or wasn’t done right. Repetition, refinement. Dedication.

That’s how you move them. The principal knows that. He just doesn’t know how to communicate the message that the teachers need to do this, except bring out data sheets. Which is what he did.

Now it’s up to us to fix this, before the beginning of March.

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