So the latest "fix-all" enthusiasm in public schools is to concentrate on data to focus instruction. By "data" the experts mean that you look at every standardized test, see how each student fared on each skill, and then target those skills which the students missed for re-teaching, extra practice, tutoring, group work, etc, etc. It's beastly difficult when you have a group of 25 kids who all have mastered different skills and you have to find ways to target each one's weakness. It's not so bad when you have a majority of kids missing the mark on most skills, because you just re-teach everything, while trying to teach new stuff too (my approach, so far). Data doesn't take into account things like cultural bias, or lack of effort, or poor preparation, or illness. It reduces education to an Excel spreadsheet which measures nothing.
In my performance review one of the things I was called out for was terrible data performance on the part of my students. I challenged this assessment by actually printing out my data and showing it to the Big Cheese. Turns out she'd never actually looked at it, and she didn't expect me to have either, because her perception was that I was a terrible teacher and she was going to pull a Downing Street Memo, making the facts fit the case, rather than vice-versa. When I sat down and showed her my kids' performance on Test A and Test B, she had to remove that portion of my performance review because it was factually inaccurate.
Strange how quickly things change! Today one of the ISTs saw me before first period. "Mr. G," she said. "We had a leadership meeting about the data after the latest Benchmark test, and you were the only teacher who moved kids at all in the entire school. You had biggest gains, some of which were remarkable. The only kids who earned the school-wide incentives for performance on the Benchmark were in your classes."
Hmmmm. The Big Cheese wanted me to observe long-term teachers who "knew what they were doing." Now my data is much better than theirs, and rumor has it I might have long-term teachers coming to observe me...I frankly attribute much of the improvement between Test A and Test B to one thing: my guarantee of a $10bill to each student who passed. That ensured that kids would try, instead of just blowing off the test. Much of the problem in City schools has to do with motivation. Kids don't see the intrinsic value of education. They pass, I pay them. It sounds shallow, and it is. But it works. I don't think it has so much to do with my teaching skills--maybe, but money talks!
The Principal was up in and around my room three times today, watching what I was doing, seeing how I worked with the kids, seeing perhaps that her perception was wrong all along. Because data is the main bug-in-the-bonnet of headquarters bigwigs, she might suddenly not be so pleased to have ticked me off before the staff transfer fair in April. Her job rests on measurable increases in performance on standardized tests, and the teacher who has the data performance she needs was the teacher she trashed. All the teachers she gave great reviews had nowhere near my improvement numbers. She will come to regret it.