Last week I watched a small group of upper grade students try as hard as they could on a standardized reading assessment, submit their computerized test for grading, and immediately receive their scores. Their faces fell when the computer gave them their results. They hadn't passed- hadn't even come close. There is nothing more disheartening as a teacher than to watch students try so hard- doing everything you've taught them to do- fail, and then be heart broken by the results.Their responses to their scores haunted me all weekend. "Why even try?" seemed to be their question as they berated themselves for their scores. "Hard work doesn't matter."
I was disheartened by the scores myself. Many of the students I've put my blood sweat and tears into did quite poorly, even on questions I would have thought they could answer. While my reaction to the scores was not as extreme as the students themselves, I certainly related to where they were coming from. For that one moment on Friday afternoon it felt like all of the work we've put in for the year had been meaningless. And that's a pretty horrible feeling to have.
Soon after I sat in a 3 hour meeting where we combed through the grade level scores of the assessment. We analyzed each question, looked at trends across the grade level, and made instructional plans. Which children would receive more direct test prep and which ones need more specific reading instruction? How do we want our lessons to address the gaps from the test? What do we need to focus on?
I left the meeting feeling better about the scores- as professionals we have a plan. The results may not have been pretty but now we have specific methods to bring up those scores. We know what we need to do. My teaching can be more exact, targeting the key areas where my students struggled. The test, as unpleasant as it was, is going to improve my lessons and in the end the students will be better readers.
Now how do we take that lesson to the kids? Kids who are already asking the question of whether or not school is meant for them. There are no easy lessons for how to help these kids see that failure right now means future growth. That doesn't seem to be an intervention group we can plan for. It's going to be more than a conversation- we're going to need to prove our words to the kids- over and over again- so they'll believe us. They did everything we told them to- worked hard, used strategies, didn't give up- and the results didn't match their effort. Now our job is to keep their attention and trust long enough to prove that failure now means growth later.