What is Student Achievement Anyway? Five Power-Packed Statements of Fact.


What is student achievement anyway?  When you’re looking at the umpteenth school improvement report, crunching your student data or figuring out who goes into the latest round of intervention, do you ever find yourself asking that question?

I do.  And lots of folks we work with are asking the same question.

I think it’s time for some collaboration around what achievement REALLY is, looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like.  As I’ve been mulling this over, I’ve had five statements rolling around my head about student achievement – I wonder if some thinking around these statements will help us decide upon a common definition about student achievement.

Take a peek…

Student Achievement Fact #1: It’s not about the test, but it’s about the test.

Big idea: Our tendency is to think of “the test” as some looming ogre or a kind of thing that is there to judge, hire/fire, skip grades/hold kids back, scare the heck out of my students and me kind of deal.  Well, I have seen teachers who have used the test as a MOTIVATOR for their kids and even themselves!  In the end, our teaching has to align with some common measure in order to determine how useful and helpful our instruction has been.  Without a common measuring tool, there is no way to measure whether students are on target for long-term success.  Just like the height/weight chart at the doctor’s office gives a pretty accurate prediction about important measurements, so should “the test”.

I often say, if we don’t stand for a high standard, then we’re automatically defaulting to the low standard.  Eek!

Student Achievement Fact #2: Kids who are working at the appropriate achievement level should be able to AT LEAST past the test.

Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills pass the test.  Period.  Kids who are not solid on the skills, drive the teachers to do crazy things like cram before the test, think that testing at a certain time of the day is going to be the difference between a “pass” and “fail” performance.  The bottom line is this: Get your kids solid on the skills and you don’t have a thing to worry about on “the test”.  I’ve seen this in practice a whole slew of times.

Student Achievement Fact #3: It’s about a pattern, not an event.

Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills perform at a high level regularly – they have a history of past and more recent success on skill-based tests.  So when it comes time to take “the test”, we know who is going to do well and who is not – – the writing is on the wall LONG before we even take “the test”.  I don’t know about you, just because I did a 5k over Thanksgiving, doesn’t make me a “runner”.  It was an event, believe me…not a pattern.

Student Achievement Fact #4: It’s not about the standards, but it’s about what the standards produce in the end.

Big Idea: Lots of folks are fussing and fighting about “what” to teach – and I think it’s a huge waste of time and a huge morale killer amongst education professionals.  Here’s the deal: the standards that we are held to, IF TAUGHT THOROUGHLY AND SKILLFULLY, will produce students who are confidently mastered on important skills.  We must keep our eyes on the prize and base all of the skill-related work that we do firmly rooted in the idea that “I am teaching you to do xyz so that you can do abc” – random skill practice doesn’t lead to standard mastery.  By linking everything we do to the bigger, end result-kind of success for kids, we’re going to see a pay-out.

Student Achievement Fact #5: It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.

Big Idea: Get over what didn’t work in the past or what should’ve happened in the past and get to teaching.  What you do tomorrow in class has a bigger impact on the future than what happened yesterday or last year.  We should always operate in this mindset: What I’m doing right now with my students is the most powerful thing I could be doing with my time.

In the end – teaching really counts!!!!

Are there other “facts” that support different schools of thought than what you’ve just read? 

Certainly!  But, where I see so much of our “achievement calibration” work to be done is in the idea of mindset.  In fact, I just emailed back and forth with a teacher that we support and her final words were:  These kids WILL make benchmark…if it kills me!  Now that’s one strong mindset!  (She was also reaching out for very specific support, which tells you something about her commitment to her practices)

So, as you mull over the Facts above, I encourage you to not think of every way that I’m off base, obsess over every time-crunched moment of your instructional day, or every reason why this or that won’t work with your students. 

But instead I’d like you to repeat this a few times: I wonder what would happen if…

And finish that sentence with something like this:

I wonder what would happen if…I used the test as a tool to help me figure out what I need to emphasize next week?

I wonder what would happen if…I taught everyday like all of my students were poised to pass the test?

I wonder what would happen if…I established a pattern of success from the very first test at the beginning of year with every student?

I wonder what would happen if…I corrected my students’ assessments and imagined them as 22 year olds, ten years from now?

I wonder what would happen if…I let go of the past results about my students and focused on what they can do today.

What do you think would happen?

What Are Reading Strategies and Why Are They So Important for All Kids?

I remember when I first started teaching I fantasized that I would have a gaggle of kids sitting at my feet while I read books aloud to them and we would marvel at the literature (of Kindergarten???) and have deep conversations about the meaning of the literature and connect the text to the world and basically just live out every English teacher’s fantasy (or at least THIS English minor’s teaching fantasy!)

And then my students showed up.

And I cried.

And my mom had to come and help me.

Like moms do.

And then I pulled it together!

So what do I mean by “pulled it together”?

I got real about what my students needed and what I would have to do to provide it to them.  Gone were the sitting at the teacher’s feet for hours on end, discussing the deeper meaning of Goodnight Moon and onto really teaching these kids WHAT good readers do and HOW to do what good readers do.

I came to understand much more clearly what reading strategies are for and why I needed to start teaching them – especially in Kindergarten!

So, here’s what I’ve learned and incorporated into my practices in Kindergarten and upper elementary, middle school and high school classrooms – these are ideas that work in REAL LIFE classrooms!

  1. Reading strategies (like compare and contrast, prediction and inference, summarizing, etc.) are solely for the purpose of boosting comprehension of the text.
  2. Reading strategies are super important to teach because by teaching them we show students how good readers think.  This is so important because learning to read is NOT a natural process.  If it were, we wouldn’t have such high illiteracy rates!
  3. Reading strategies need to be modeled, modeled, modeled to kids of all ages before they become automatic.  Just like you wouldn’t give a car to a 15 year old learning to drive, you don’t hand over comprehension of text to students without lots of hand holding!
  4. Reading strategies are a process, not a check on a checklist.  Prior to reading ANY text, you should model and think aloud for students how you, as a successful reader, approach and attack the text.  Things like “Hmm…this has me thinking that I’m a little confused, let me use my reading comprehension strategy of re-reading to see if I can make more sense of this.” Think-alouds like this give kids permission to ask questions about the text.
  5. Reading strategies give kids TOOLS to figure out difficult text – this is the whole point!  Teaching reading comprehension shouldn’t been a shot in the dark – we need to ARM kids with the big guns (proven reading comprehension strategies) to be able to take on new text with lots of new vocabulary and lots of new content knowledge. 
  6. Reading strategies give kids confidence.  Have you ever seen a strong, confident reader cower at the thought of difficult text?  Probably not!  They go rip-roarin’ into the text because they’re thinking, “I’ve got this!” – and what you see is them regularly and appropriately applying reading comprehension strategies!

So, what are reading strategies?

Reading strategies are flexible tools designed to help facilitate text comprehension.

And why are they so important for all kids?

Reading strategies are critical to develop in order to boost comprehension, confidence and clarity while reading text.

So, where do you start with all of this?  Start by reflecting on your lessons from last year – did you make assumptions that kids already knew/had the reading strategies?  Were there multiple opportunities each day in different kinds of text where you modeled the strategies?  Where do you see obvious opportunities to model next year?

Now, I’ve got to go and get back to prepping my Proust lesson for my kindergarten demo tomorrow.  *wink wink*