What is Progress?

I have to admit that one of my biggest weaknesses as a first year teacher is in collecting and analyzing data. This is an especially big problem since there is a city-wide initiative centered around this skill. Data is the new focus of instruction.

What this means is that all teachers need to be constantly assessing their students and recording the progress. This may be in the form of running records and DRA's or more formal math tests. Regardless of what form these assessments take, there is tremendous pressure to keep track of all of them and use them to inform instruction. And yet, here I am, four months into the year with virtually no paper trail to vouch for my teaching or my students.

Without sounding like too much of an apologist for my own shortcomings, I have to ask what is the true measure of progress for these students? It's a question that I was discussing in class Wednesday with the other fellows from my cohort. According to the city my success as a teacher will be measured by how many levels my students increase in reading and whether they meet certain performance indicators in math, science, writing and social studies.

Meanwhile, I'm just thrilled that Gary Coleman Jr. stays in his seat for prolonged periods of time and doesn't go around emptying other students' pencil shavings onto their desks. There is such a deficit in the area of behavior and socialization that the pressure of these tests and data assessments feels a bit like a cruel joke. Adding to that stress comes an article in Monday's NY Times reported that city is now measuring teachers based on test scores and is hoping to create individual grades for teachers based on these scores.

I don't discount the importance of measuring improvement in the content areas or creating a system of accountability for teachers. But in the process it feels like we're losing our ability to give credit for a teacher who helps a student find a new focus, helps another build much needed self-esteem or simply inspires a student to dream. How will that progress be measured?


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