Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Grade/Age Equivalents are NOT numbers!

I'd like to share a pet peeve. While reviewing the intake materials on one of our new students, I came across his most recent triennial report in which the report was a canned summary from the Woodcock Johnson computer program (this is a whole other issue for me) and the test scores shared by the special educator were age and grade equivalents.  I could not believe that the ONLY scores this special educator shared were the age and grade equivalents.

My soapbox. Except I wear cuter shoes!

Why was this a problem for me?

Age and Grade Equivalents are NOT real numbers. They look like numbers, they sound like numbers, but they are not numbers. Please don't treat them like numbers. They are impostors.

What can an age or grade equivalent tell you about a student's performance? Not much. Say a student is in grade 8.2 (eighth grade, second month of school) and they earn a grade equivalent of 6.8 on the calculation test of the Woodcock Johnson III.  This DOES NOT mean that this student is 1.4 grades behind in calculation.  Why? Because they are not real numbers, so you can't do math with them like they are real numbers. All you know is that they earned the same number of corrects as the average student in the 6th grade, eighth month in the norm sample.  Chances are that a 6.8 in calculation will fall within the average range for and eighth grader once you look at their percentile score or standardized testing scores.

Say this same student was tested last year and his calculation score was a grade equivalent of 4.2.  Can I say that he made 2.6 grades of improvement in calculation? NO. Why? Because age/grade equivalents are NOT real numbers and should not be treated like numbers.

So why are they used? I think they are used because some people think that parents understand age/grade equivalents better than percentile or standard scores.  I think that they offer a false sense of understanding and it is way more valuable to educate parents on standard scores.  If you'd like scores that really are numbers and can be used to compare for progress purposes, use standard scores.

Repeat after me. "Age and grade equivalents are NOT real numbers."

*steps off soapbox*

Sunday, September 2, 2012

From a Distance

from http://wordandimage.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/literacy-visual/ 

"I cannot judge my work while I am doing it. I have to do as painters do, stand back and view it from a distance, but not too great a distance. How great? Guess."  

I work with challenging students.  All of my students have been identified with some sort of learning disability.  I have students on the autistic spectrum, students with dyslexia, students with anxiety, students with language and writing disorders, students with ADHD, ODD, NVLD and a variety of other alphabet soup.  In addition to whatever their particular labeled disorder my students, like all students, vary in their interest and motivation.

The beginning of every school year is much the same.  Some time in late July or early August I find out what I will (probably) be teaching.  I also get an idea of who might be in my classes.  I start planning, usually in a vague, nonspecific way.  I've learned not to get to invested in those ideas until the end of our training week when I can be slightly more certain of the what and who I'll be teaching.  I over plan for the first week of classes, stressing myself out because I don't yet know the dynamic of my classes and it is always better to have more than not enough.

I can anticipate the cycle of the year.  After the first couple weeks, I'll know my classes better. I'll be shocked at what they don't know. I'll be frustrated about what they didn't retain (especially those I taught last year), but I'll get in a groove and good things will start happening.  The end of the first quarter will happen before I know it. I'll be disappointed because we are behind. I'll be frustrated because I know they can do more.  I'll brainstorm new and different ways to attack their challenges.  And I'll push them hard.  

I'll blink and it will be Christmas. I'll be tired and grateful that it will be time for a break. I'll be a bit disgusted with the continuing struggles in my classes.  I'll brainstorm new and different ways to motivate the couch potatoes and I'll try another way to attack those concepts that still elude us.  We'll come back from break and I'll push them hard. We'll review and revise and practice and prepare.  Then there will be midterm exams. I'll be pleasantly surprised at the improvement of some students and angry with myself for the confusion of others.  

I'll brainstorm new and different ways to try to help them understand, to connect with the material, to become more independent students.  And I'll push them hard. Sometimes they'll push back and tell me they hate math and tell me they can't do it. So I'll be gentle and push them hard with soft hands. 

And this cycle will continue until we are somehow past the unending days in March, through another break and start in April, and have reached the end of May sliding into June.  The whole way pushing hard and expecting more than they want to give sometimes.  And I will catch myself still being disappointed that I couldn't do more, that it wasn't enough.  Then will come the end of the year graduation and awards ceremony where we celebrate the achievements of each and every individual student.  

Then I get the opportunity to step back. To remember where we were in late August and to see where we ended in June.  Then I get to be amazed at how much we accomplished and how much was learned and how much my students grew as learners over the school year.  And for the moment, I can appreciate the beauty in what I get to do each year.

And then I'll start brainstorming how I can do even better next year.