Anyone who works in education knows the institution's obsession with data. What I mean is school districts are always worried about their data. Are the test scores high enough? Are the students making adequate growth? How many kids do we have in the exceeds category or in the needs improvement category? What do these numbers mean for our teachers and their evaluations? Bottom line schools are obsessed with data and that data is often how we determine “success”. As I have said many times before, I think we look at the wrong data. However, the reality is math and reading scores are often used to paint a picture of the success or failure of a school or of an individual teacher. Whenever you see a teacher or a school with high marks on these scores, people want to know what they're doing. Conversely, if there are low scores people want to know why that is happening is well.
I have spent many years looking at this data both in my own school and many others I work with. Based on these experiences, I have a handful of things I often hear. Some people will say making kids aware of their data and tracking progress helps increase their scores. The argument is kids are buying into the idea of their own progress and can see it on their charts and their goal sheets. I think there may be some truth to this and this practice may help students on these tests. Another thing I hear often enough is the shameful activity of bribery. I have seen schools that have bribed kids to increase their standardized test scores. They have offered rewards from donuts and extra credit points to parties and prizes. These bribes are tied to their progress or a point value. In some cases the results do work but something about this practice has never set right with me.
The one thing I don't think we talked about enough is the emotional well-being of the child and that's impact on this “sacred” data. As I have looked at teachers who regularly produce solid test scores, there is a common denominator. Yes, they are good teachers but more importantly, they are great people. They are the teachers who kids want to be in their room. They are the teachers who care and love every single child in their classroom. Even if they don’t love them, the kids don’t know it. :) They care more about the social emotional well-being than the data point on a nationally normed test.
It should be no secret that if you like your teacher and enjoy the environment in class, you are likely going to absorb and learn more of the content. So, while bribery and goal-setting may help test scores, I firmly believe if we focused on the way we treat kids it would have a far greater impact. In addition, we would be increasing the overall social and emotional well-being of the child. If we ensure that all teachers are treating kids with dignity, respect and genuinely caring for their well-being, the test scores will take care of themselves. Even if the test scores don’t, then we may just have created better people which this world can certainly use more of.