Gutter Ball

Bob is a bowler and a pretty good one. He prides himself on this skill and works hard to get better. He’s been in a local league, and he and this team are pretty competitive. Bob wants to bring his average score up from 188 to 200. The team, “Mamas and Boys” (don’t ask), have won some smaller tournaments, but never the Annual All City Bowling Tournament. His team’s average score will have to be around 200 for them to come away with the first place trophy.

When he is not bowling with his teammates, Bob still tries to beat his best score. He’s okay with going with friends to “just have fun.” Many of them see bowling as a social activity, and most of the time they don’t keep score or they ignore the automatic score keeper. Bob would rather they keep score, but got used to the “let’s-not-keep-score-and-everyone-should-get-a-trophy” attitude that prevailed when he was a kid. “After all, Bob,” his coach would say, “it’s just a game.”

Last week the Denver School Board treated reading like bowling, instructing the Superintendent to assess school performance without using scale scores, grades, or any data that would compare schools. The District’s continued movement away from the use of real data, such as reading proficiency or a school’s ability to raise achievement, is the equivalent to bowling for fun – “don’t worry students . . . and teachers . . . we’re not going to compare you with anyone or to any standard so just get out there and do what you can.” The problem is that educating students is not a game, and the need to significantly narrow the achievement gap is greater than ever.

Running from the achievement data is not going to help develop effective strategies to close the gap or prepare students better for a Year 2035 workplace and world. It won’t make students feel better about themselves.

And I suspect the reticence about comparing scores is more about the adults not wanting to be held accountable for their inability to educate all students well. “Yeah, don’t worry district leaders, you’ll get your trophy too.”

Many leaders in our profession also loathe test scores. And, yes, performance should not be measured solely by some state exam, but at a minimum, accurate, norm referenced data about reading should not be avoided. These same leaders will claim they want equity for underserved students, especially poor and minority students. Let me repeat a thought from an earlier blog: if you really want equity, then the most important strategy you can use is to put your most effective teachers with your lowest performing students. Oh, but wait . . . that would mean looking at data to assess your most effective teachers and, oh my god, comparing their scores at some point. So, never mind – you’re right: talking about equity and placing equity in your beliefs statement proves you’re doing everything you can.

Still, somewhere out there, maybe even in the lower echelons of the DPS workforce, there are leaders who have the courage to hold themselves accountable and who will go against the status quo. To you I say, collect and analyze the data on your own. Use them to develop differentiated support for students and teachers. Use the data also to place your most effective teachers with the students who need them the most. Let the other leaders laugh at the gutter balls they throw; you focus on getting a strike.


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