by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning SPECIALIST
In this age of data, we have to measure our students’ skills through assessments, formative and summative. As educators we know the value of measurement, for students and teachers; but students do not always see the value in being measured.
When I’m in schools doing baseline assessments at the beginning of a term, I try to explain to students that on a pre-test it is assumed there will be things they don’t know. That’s the purpose of the test: to locate gaps that need to be filled. We don’t expect perfect scores. All teachers try to make this clear, but it’s still hard to deal with students’ disappointment when they feel they are not measuring up to your expectations.
One student who really brought this home to me was a young man named Joey. At the end of the pre-assessment, he came up to me and said, “Miss. This was really hard. I know I did not do good on it at all. I want to go to college, but I’m not sure I can do this. How am I ever going to make it?”
Joey’s trepidation was well-founded. His pre-test score placed him at the lowest skill level in mathematics. But it was only September, so I trotted out my trusty explanation of how learning is incremental and steady practice leads to mastery.
Looking at his worried young face, I took a deep breath and started, “Well, Joey, let’s put this into perspective. This test is 12 questions that measure 12 different skills. You did get some points, so you already have some of those skills. You have to develop the ones you don’t have. Let’s come up with a plan to do that. “
Joey stared down at the floor and muttered, “But I did really bad. There’s too much to learn.”
I breezed right on. “Joey, the purpose of this class is to build skills. It’s September. You are going to go through this math class and each lesson you do will teach you a new skill. You can master at least one new skill a week, and probably two or even three. You have nine months of class. With vacations and holidays, that’s about 37 weeks. Even if you only learn one new skill a week, that’s 37 new skills. If you learn two, that’s 74. You don’t have to learn everything in one day.”
He glanced up from the floor. I kept going. “You need to gain 50 points on this test. That’s about one and a half lessons each week. Do you think you can do that?”
He shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”
We talked a little longer about how the math software program would guide him through the lessons and measure his progress. I stressed that he would be able to go at his own pace and that he would know how he was doing at every session and his teacher would be there to help when he needed it. I repeated that it was only the beginning of the year and he would have plenty of time to build his skills.
Finally, he sighed and said “OK, Miss.” I wasn’t sure if he believed me or just wanted to get away.
Throughout the year I would see Joey in the hall or in class and he would assure me he was doing the program. I knew from the weekly reports that he was moving along steadily. Every time I saw him I told him how impressed I was that he was working so hard and making so much progress.
When I came into his class for the last time that year to give the final post-test, Joey smiled confidently and said, “I got this, Miss.”
And he did. He gained his 50 points on the Accuplacer and met the college cut score. I knew how much of the curriculum he had completed, but I wasn’t sure if it would all translate into application. I was relieved and delighted to see that it did. Just as I had tried to convince him in September, his mastery had grown and so had his confidence. He wasn’t looking down at the floor anymore. He was looking ahead to college.
I’d like to say it always works out so neatly. When it does, it’s the greatest reward an educator can receive. I’ll never forget the self-confidence in Joey’s face when he said, “I got this, Miss.”