Saturday, March 15, 2014

Data is Just a Sketch... There's So Much More to a Final Masterpiece



noun.  Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

Facts and statistics.  My language.  Information I can gather together and reference and analyze.  Solidity to back up and reinforce what I'm doing, and show me where I still need to go.

I live and breath data.  There are very few things I do in my classroom that aren't somehow connected to data that I've gathered and referenced and analyzed to give me a better understanding of what I'm doing or what results I should be seeing.

I use different tools to gather data.  I use different methods to analyze data.  But, when the data doesn't correlate to the results I'm witnessing with my own eyes, I automatically think something is wrong.  Something is wrong with me... with what I'm doing.  Where was the mistake?  Where did I go wrong?  Why aren't the numbers matching what I think they should be?

A few months ago, my kiddos took a mock MAP test.  Which is basically a mock version of the benchmark test we'll be taking in a few weeks.  After they took those tests, I took them and analyzed the heck out of the results.

What skills have my class mastered?  What skills are in progress?  What skills still need major attention?  What individual students need additional help?  What patterns could I create?  What groups could I form to pinpoint and compliment the patterns?

And, then when I had all that information my next step was to reference the data to start my next process.

What lessons will best benefit the class as a whole?  Which lessons will I need to focus on in a small group setting?  How can I best incorporate skills in to other subjects?  What activities will refresh and reinforce master skills so they aren't lost, but aren't run in to the ground?  What projects could I create that would cover an array of skills?

Keeping all that in mind with:  What can I do to make sure my kids have all the skills they need to successfully move on to 5th grade?

And on, and on, and on.

That kind of data collection and analysis takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes some trial and error.  But, it's worth it.  Because that data gives me a torch in the dark.  Gives me a light for the path.  Tells me exactly where I need to go, and where to avoid so that I'm not traveling around in circles.

Yet, what happens when you follow the data, incorporate all that work, witness the growth in the classroom, and yet still receive additional data that says certain kids still aren't improving?

It's there in black and white.  Some of my kids aren't making growth.  The numbers tell me that.  Not a single bit of growth.

Data doesn't lie.

Or does it?

The data says Student A started the year off reading and having the math skills of a 1st grader.  She had very little phonemic awareness, struggled with comprehending her reading, had a lot of difficulty adding and subtracting single digit numbers, and regrouping?  No knowledge whatsoever.

So, over the course of year, I use that data to pinpoint and target those areas.  Phonemic awareness skills, basic addition and subtraction, and so on along with introducing the 4th grade skills we are learning, but with less demand.

By March, Student A is able to read a book on a 2nd grade level to me.  She can identify the phonetic patterns ('at' in cat, 'sh' in she, 'igh' in light).  She is able to give other words that fall in to that same pattern and spell them correctly.  Not only that, but she can also spell the 4th grade words that are given for the spelling lesson for the rest of the class.  She is able to comprehend what she read.  She is able to answer questions about the book, summarizing it, sequencing the main events, and identifying the main characters, setting, and problem/solution.  She can give antonyms and synonyms for basic words.  Synonyms for "sad" are unhappy and upset.  Antonyms for sad are happy and glad.  

In math, she can now pass multiplication tests for the 2, 3, and 4 fact families.  She can regroup up to 2 digits by 2 digits with ease.  She is also completing basic multiplication and division problems with ease.  She writes out multiplies to help solve multiplication and division problems in to the 3 digit range.  

Her growth is good.  Still far behind her 4th grade peers, but much further along than when she first started the year out.

So, she takes a test that measures her growth, and the test shows NO growth from the beginning of the year.  None.  Nada  Zilch.


And, she's not the only one.  Several students in my class showing the same leaps and bounds of growth with me, yet show NO growth on that test.


As you can imagine, I was a bit upset.  No.  I was furious.  Confused.  Devastated.

How can that be?

The data is my guiding light, it keeps me on target, backs up everything I'm doing.  How can the data reflect NO growth, when I've seen the growth with my own eyes.  I've sat down with these students, worked with them, watched them succeed, watched them grow right there in front of me.  I've seen the miraculous light bulbs kick on, and my classroom is buzzing with extra light.

Why is the data failing me?

Yesterday, I took my very surprising test results to Mrs. P.  Gave her my spill on how devastated and confused I was about the results.  Explained my need for the data to back up what I'm doing, reinforce I'm doing what I can and what I should to make sure these kids are on the right track.

And, as usual, she explained it for me in a way I can understand.

My eyes are another source of data.  You just have to use different sources of data to make a justified analysis.

What if those "no growth" kids don't understand the test that's administered?  What if those kids go in to a panic when they are sitting in front of the computer taking the test?  What if the kids aren't comfortable with the person administering the test?  What if the kids are just flying through the test without really taking the time to read the questions?

So, the results don't back up what I'm seeing in my classroom.  So what?  I know what I'm doing, I can see the results. Why on EARTH do I need a piece of paper to tell me I'm doing what I can for these kids?

What I've come to realize from that talk with Mrs. P is that data is just a sketch.  A rough draft.  An outline.  There are some jagged lines, erasure marks, absolutely no color whatsoever.

That sketch is then taken and the jagged lines are drawn together with darker pencil.  The lines become smoother, easier to see.  The erasure marks are covered by color.  Filling in the empty spaces.  Covering any hint of mistakes.  

And right there, in front of your eyes, a simple sketch becomes a beautiful picture. One with solidity, color, and perspective.  

The rough draft was OK.  It gave me a starting point.  It at least gave me an outline from which to start... but a final picture needs WAY more than a few jagged lines created with a pencil.  

Markers.  Pens.  Watercolors.  Thicker paper, even.  

I have the power to turn the rough in to defined.  Empty to full.  Colorless to colorful.

Data is the sketch.  

My eyes create the picture.

There's nothing wrong with being a data driven person, as long as I only use it as a guide.  It can NOT define me or how my picture turns out.

Student A, on paper, is completely different to the student I see coming in to my classroom each day.  On paper, she's numbers.  In my eyes she's a masterpiece.  She overcomes MANY struggles.  She gets excited when she knows the right answer.  She craves attention.  She revels in her accomplishments.  

Students B,C,D, and so on are the same way.  

On paper, they are nothing more than numbers.  In my eyes, they are works of art.  Solid lines, bursting with color.  

And that's something I just have to remember.  

Data doesn't define me.  It doesn't define what I do or how I do it.  It is nothing more than a very jagged outline waiting for me to put my own splash of color in to it.  It doesn't show the smiles, the happiness, the appreciation.

These past few days has made me realize that I sometimes need to take a step back and appreciate the art.  

What is written on a piece of paper doesn't override what I've witnessed with my own eyes.  It shouldn't cloud my judgement.  I am doing OK, my kids are doing OK.  I know what they need.  

There are times I may stray outside of the lines.  There are times that I might have to start completely over.  But, all I need to focus on are the masterpieces that will walk out of my classroom in May.  I will know that I've taken the sketches, and colored and crafted my heart out.  I will know that I've given them everything I have, that I never gave up, and they are leaps and bounds ahead of where they first started.

So, starting today, data is no longer my torch, my light.  It is nothing more than the sketch.  Unclear, unknowing, unable to paint the entire picture.

The painting is up to me.   


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