When is failure failure?

The Labyrinth of Failure, or Model of Organizational Politics? You decide!

As part of the 10,000 education reforms that seem to be rolling out in Michigan and elsewhere, each teacher in my district was tasked with developing a specific, measurable teaching goal for the year.  In future, this will be part of how I and other teachers are evaluated and compensated, but for now it is, I think, practice.  I’ll skip opining about the silliness of a single goal for a general classroom teacher.

Here is my goal for the year:  In two of my writing units (narrative and informational, respectively), all of my students will move up at least one level on the assessment rubric in at least two of the four assessed areas (content/ideas, organization, style/voice, and conventions).

I scored the post-assessments for my narrative writing unit.  I have already failed to meet my goal.

…So.  What does that mean?  That is what I have to figure out for myself, I think.  Certainly, my first moves were to carefully examine pre- and post data, to review student work samples (rough drafts and published work) from the unit, and to glance over anecdotal notes from the course of instruction.  When I look at all this information, I feel really good about the progress of each student in my class.  Everyone shows growth.  Some just didn’t show that growth in the on-demand prompt for the post assessment.  Clearly, this is what is important…but it doesn’t change the fact that I cannot meet my goal, the one that impacts my evaluation for the year.

…So.  What should I do?  I could just keep plugging away at narrative writing, trying to lift those rubric scores.  But narrative writing is only a part of the Common Core, and informational and persuasive writing will need many, many weeks of dedicated instruction.  Do I just skip persuasive writing, the way some of my colleagues just skip social studies or science instruction, and devote more time to the areas that most effect my evaluation (and, theoretically, income)?

And what lesson do I take from this?  I could set a far more modest goal in future, a sure thing.  Honestly, that may be what happens.  But it makes me queasy just thinking of it.  That’s just not who I want to be.  I want my goals for student learning to be both ambitious and reasonable whenever possible.  My gut tells me it is better to set a somewhat tough goal and “fail” then to succeed at not-very-much.  But there is now another voice in my head, a tiny voice that says that if my pay ends up cut because I don’t meet a single goal that I had a hand in setting, that it may be time to lower my standards.  I already miss the days when my focus could remain on my students and I didn’t have to think about this kind of stuff.

Am I failing?  Maybe.  But I am failing the system, not my students.  For now, I can live with that.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michele Corbat
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 01:42:21

    You have expressed what many teachers are feeling. I am very nervous about my goal as I am indirectly involved and not in a classroom. My goal is tied to AIMSweb benchmark scores for 6th graders (all 300 or so of them). I will do everything possible to support teachers with implementing Reading Workshop and understanding the benefits of student choice, conferring, focus lessons, and miles on the page. However, I won’t be in every classroom every day and even if I could be, I am not sure if my goal will be reached. I don’t want to lower the bar and worry that this may end up happening.
    On a side note, could you administer the narrative post assessment again in the spring and compare those scores? While you wouldn’t be teaching narrative writing in the months to come, students will be getting miles on the page with your excellent instruction and support. There is a K-2 Assessment guide posted in the Oakland Units (draft version) and one coming soon for the other grade levels. I will email it to you.


    • hloney
      Nov 29, 2012 @ 11:38:34

      Thanks for the resource. I am planning to take a second run at narrative writing at year’s end, time permitting, though it may be more in the context of test/prompt writing. I’m hopeful that things will turn out just as you described!


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