Social Media Influencers and Student Assessment Pushback
If you spend time scrolling through social media you have most likely seen a teacher or principal who has become a social media influencer, it is the newest “second job” for educators. In these edu-celebrity posts they showcase their latest student handshakes or create a funny video acting out their awkward interactions with parents over school discipline. They also sell coffee cups, health coaching plans, and much more if they have enough followers for lucrative endorsements and product placements.
Not surprisingly, in these same posts by edu-celebrities garnering “likes” by constantly referencing the stressed and struggling teacher, the easiest “like” to gather is for anti-assessment during a pandemic.
The guessing about student learning gaps has begun; you can see it as the comments flow on social media posts targeted at educators. The comments assume insurmountable student learning losses, reference the “lost year of education,” and speculate that these K-12 students of 2020-2021 may never academically recover. And all this while at the same time mocking any use of assessment as a waste of time and money and inferring that testing would be used to label teachers as “bad.”
The great educational author, researcher, and presenter Robert Eaker often refers to “the woe is me” refrain that can be found amongst some educators who resist a collaborative, data-driven school culture focused on student learning.
COVID-19 building closures, impacting in-person schooling, make data absolutely essential for targeting student learning needs. Now is the time for educators to rally around assessment as the tool for not only discovering where the skill gaps are amongst our students, but also to provide our teachers with the support they need to learn together, collaborate around the data, and gain confidence in their ability to make informed decisions about essential learnings over the next one to two years as we all come together to close the gaps for our students.
At our small high school of 200 students, we have had the ability to be open for in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year. The first thing we did when our students returned to the school building after 5 months (closed March 16, 2020 - Aug. 18, 2020) was to give our high school students standardized assessments (ACT Aspire grades 9 and 10, ACT grades 11 and 12). Over the course of three assessment windows this school year we have seen many students go from scoring lower than their normal academic performance in September of 2020 to being back on track with grade level (or above) learning as early as December 2020, and celebrating personal record scores by April of 2021.
Schools that are closed to in-person learning longer may have a bigger student learning dip, but the fact is data is our friend. It helps us understand what students know and are able to do as they come back for in-person learning. And, just as important, it helps us monitor our instructional pacing and know how quickly students are progressing to normed levels typical for students in any given year. This builds confidence in all of us as educators that the COVID-19 dip can be overcome!
There is no doubt schools that actively and accurately collect student learning data this spring will be better prepared to meet students where they are in regard to skills and appropriately accelerate student learning over the next year.
How do we accelerate student learning and close the gaps?
- Teachers must come together to analyze current, authentic student data.
- Teachers must identify learning gaps student by student, skill by skill.
- Teachers must collaboratively decide what essential learnings will be taught the next school year and how those essentials will incorporate missed knowledge and skills.
- Teachers and administrators must think outside the box: a biology teacher may have to incorporate earth science standards into a series of Friday enrichment lessons to fill in gaps around physical science in a life science class.
- In other words, if students didn’t learn it last year (to proficiency/mastery), we can’t just skip over it!
When edu-celebrities blast assessment as “bad and unfair for kids and teachers” via social media platforms to drive up “likes” from educators that are already nervous about their own teaching abilities during a pandemic, it creates a knowing/doing gap (what you know you should do, versus what you actually do) around research proven best practices, specifically, using data to drive instruction to best meet student learning needs.
The architect of Professional Learning Communities, Richard DuFour (2015) stated, “Unlike schools of the past, professional learning communities (PLCs) view data as a powerful tool for improving student learning.”
None of us have lived through a pandemic before or the closing of school buildings for a year or more. We have scrambled to implement distance learning in homes with parents unprepared for the challenge of facilitating their own child’s daily schooling. Teachers have had to revise quality in-person interactive instructional practices and lessons to fit online platforms on the fly.
Now is not the time to guess what kids know and don’t know. I don’t see social media influencers posting about and celebrating the students that spent the past year accelerating their own learning with parent and teacher support and access to online educational resources.
In our school we are celebrating several “perfect” scores on sections of the ACT for our junior class in the spring of 2021. These students have thrived due to their willingness to use the “down time” embedded in a year of community COVID lockdown to read, watch educational videos, and consume academic content on their own and with the support of their teachers.
There is only one way for us as educators to find out what our students know and don’t know after this chaotic year, and that is to assess their academic skills and knowledge.
As schools reopen it is essential for students to engage in authentic assessment to gather measurable results that will help set them and their teachers up for success as we plan for the next school year and put assessment practices in place to monitor progress.
Our job as educators is to bridge the gap and ensure our students are back on track to achieve high levels of learning within a reasonable amount of time. Kids are resilient and anxious to get back in the swing of the routines of school. What if the story that comes out of the post-pandemic year of 2022 is one of kids, parents and educators celebrating academic growth and achievement as a result of implementing research proven best practices? Now, that will be a celebration of educators for years to come!
DuFour, R. (2015). How PLCs Do Data Right - Educational Leadership. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov15/vol73/num03/How-PLCs-Do-Data-Right.aspx