Just When I Thought I Was Done with Math Forever…

By Haley Radcliffe, Secondary English Education Major / Brentwood Middle School Intern

            As a Secondary English Education major, I thought I was done with math forever after I finished my Problem Solving with Creative Math course in the fall of my freshman year of college. Now, I thought, I can finally forget about all this math stuff and devote my energy to what I’m really interested in: reading literature, writing about it analytically, writing creatively, and teaching secondary-level students to do the same. And I did forget about math and focus all of my energies on my English and Education studies. Until I got to the fall of my junior year. That semester, I took Foundations of Assessment, a required course for all Secondary Education majors. The course emphasized the importance of collecting data on student growth and achievement through classroom assessment, and it made me realize that if I do become a high school English teacher, a career that I thought was about as far away from numbers as you could get, math, and more specifically, analyzing data, will always be a part of my life. Middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teachers are even more hard-pressed to use and understand student data since their students’ growth and achievement is measured through large-scale, state-mandated assessments in addition to being measured through small-scale, classroom assessments. In Pennsylvania, for example, every student in grades three through eight is annually assessed in ELA on the Pennsylvania System School Assessment, or the PSSA.

            Because of the high stakes associated with the results of state-mandated assessments like the PSSAs, some school districts make use of commercially-produced interim/benchmark assessments to predict student proficiency on the annual state test such that specially-designed instruction can be planned and delivered beforehand to maximize student performance on them. Brentwood Borough, the site of my internship, uses the Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) interim/benchmark assessments three times a year for these purposes. Now that all of the students in the eighth-grade ELA classroom I am working with have taken the September Reading MAP® assessment and my host teacher and I have received their score reports, the first steps of one of my primary responsibilities in my internship, organizing and analyzing the students’ data, have begun. My first day on the job after the students’ Reading MAP® score reports became available consisted of organizing some of the most pertinent student data points that the assessment presents—such as each student’s overall RIT score, their specific instructional area scores, and their projected ELA PSSA score—into a series of spreadsheets that would make them more easily accessible for my host teacher and me. After all of this data was organized, the big question then became, what do we do with it? This is where the math came in. As my host teacher introduced her eighth-graders to the short story “A Summer to Remember,” I sat at a desk calculating the percentage of them projected to score advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic on the ELA PSSA based on their RIT and instructional area MAP® scores and wracked my brain trying to think of how to use this data to design instruction that would maximize their growth and achievement. How does one transform an Excel spreadsheet full of last names and numbers into learning objectives and lessons that are effective and meaningful for each class and each student?

            To my relief, my host teacher reassured me that while this is a question we are going to continue to grapple with, the next order of business would be to simply share each student’s score report with them and have a conversation with them about it, which is exactly what I did during my next day on the job after my host teacher and I received the scores. As my host teacher administered a diagnostic text-dependent analysis on “A Summer to Remember,” I called students back to my desk individually and shared with them some of the most pertinent data points on their score report. While all of the students were attentive to their data points and my explanations of what they meant, there were certainly some who were more interested in understanding their scores and setting goals to improve them than others—when I shared one of the highest-scoring student’s impressive RIT score with her, she asked, “Well, what’s the highest score you can get?” This was a question which at first made me laugh, but then made me really admire and appreciate the drive to succeed that this student was exhibiting. Of course, as teachers, we have to understand that while not every student will be this motivated to excel to the highest levels possible, we can foster motivation by communicating with students about their achievement and growth and by helping them to set learning goals.

            When I return to the classroom this week, my teacher and I will dive into discussions on how we are going to design instruction based on the students’ strengths and weaknesses as exhibited by the Reading MAP® data, and I have a funny feeling that math is going to rear its head once again as a part of this process. Although I was initially overwhelmed with the sheer amount of data the MAP® assessment presents and nervous about my responsibility to make sense of it all, I am so glad to have the opportunity to learn about this process alongside my host teacher before I student teach myself and eventually start applying for teaching positions on my own. Once I get there, understanding standardized assessment and how to best prepare students for it won’t be such a frightening prospect—I’ll be ready!


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