PLCs and Question Four

Our district started the year with a huge professional development day—all morning with the secondary staff and all afternoon with the elementary staff attending an inservice designed to reboot, reenergize, and refine our Professional Learning Communities. Our administrative team from “the hill” flew a guru out from Utah to train us.

I have to admit, I was impressed with her style. Whatever it took to make PLCs work in her school, she made it happen. “You need a place and time to meet all together? I can coordinate that!” “You need pizza and Cokes? I’ll bring it in!” “You need everyone to have laptops? I’ll buy them!”

I was less clear where she found the money to make it all happen. Pizza and soda for every PLC meeting? New laptops for every teacher? Maybe she writes really great grants.

She led us through the process to the inevitable high point—the increase in test scores. The impact on the lowest performing students in math and reading was, again, impressive.

Then we took a break, and I was able to go up with my little sticky note question, “Did the test scores for your top reading and math groups show comparable gains with your low groups?”

When we reconvened she answered my question first. “No,” she admitted. And, she added, in their euphoria over their success, it took a while for them to notice the discrepancy and start to address the needs of their highest students.

It’s a nation-wide issue that, I believe, has been exacerbated by No Child Left Behind. The legislative emphasis is on “meeting the standard.” Politically, that doesn’t give much incentive to pouring a lot of time, energy, effort—and money—into children who already “meet the standard” in September. So what is the result?

In 2008 the Fordham Report showed that the lowest fourth grade reading group posted a 16 point gain over seven years while the highest fourth grade reading group posted a 3 point gain. The lowest eighth grade math group posted a 13 point gain over the same seven years while the highest eighth grade math group posted a 5 point gain.

In our PLC we have four questions. Unfortunately, there is a sense of order to those questions, almost a sense of priority. Often, we never get to grappling with question number 4 until we have thoroughly resolved questions 1, 2 and 3. Those kids on the high end need us to answer the question now, not after they have moved on to college.

The truth is, it is not enough for teachers to ask, “How will we respond if they already know it?” There should be an incentive in the testing system itself, not to bully individual teachers but to acknowledge high-achieving schools and districts.

When the WASL first came out (remember that precursor to the MSP?), districts earned one point for every child who moved from a 2 to a 3 in a test—math, reading, writing, or listening. But districts earned 2 points for every child who moved from a 3 to a 4. That system gave districts an incentive to continue pushing students past simply meeting the standard toward exceeding the standard. I have no idea what the points were used for, and unfortunately the incentive system disappeared almost immediately.

I was sorry to see it go.

I want to see the test scores for the top groups go up as much as any other group. Because right now, those are the children most likely to be “left behind.”

3 thoughts on “PLCs and Question Four

  1. Mark Gardner

    I too think that our push to get kids “meeting standard” has resulted in little effort toward those kids who walk in, for whatever reason, already achieving. The new student growth requirement in TPEP, if implemented as intended (a huge IF) refocuses us on growth for all students. However, some of the training modules I see rolling out around growth goal setting look like the same old SMART goal “90% of kids will meet standard” goals that are part of the problem. Like you, I appreciate the four-point-scale because it represented a continuum–and the idea is (in my mind) that our job as a teachers is to MOVE kids on the continuum, no matter where they begin.

  2. Tom White

    This is a powerful and important issue, Jan. What do we do with the high achievers? The answer, mostly, is nothing. That’s because there’s so much pressure to focus on the low achievers. And rightly so.

    Your PLC is the perfect metaphor for our entire educational system. We’re so hyper-focused on the ones and twos that the threes and fours get short shrift.

  3. Kari DeMarco

    Well said! What gets measured is what gets treasured. We need to measure growth for ALL and care about growth for ALL kids. This needs to be systemized at all levels. Thanks, Jan, for saying it so well!

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