If you were to look back and reflect upon the last two school years, then I think you would likely fall into the vast majority of people who say, “this is not what I thought being an educator would look like.” I think this is especially true for teachers and aides and all others who have entered the world of publication for the first time these last two school years.
Things are different. Some things better, some worse, and some remain the same. Regardless of the circumstance, we have found ourselves in a position to reevaluate what we are doing in public education and why it should (or shouldn’t) be so.
Consider the original approach to the onset of the pandemic in the United States. Regional educators as well as the professional learning networks (PLNs) on Twitter immediately took to making connections and practical applications to real-time COVID-19 data for instructional purposes. In social studies courses, these conversations focused on how pandemics have impacted governments, economies, or cultures throughout history. In mathematics courses, these discussions included analyzing infection rates to determine the best function to model the data.
It didn’t take long, however, for educators to realize that the data they were using to guide instruction was not producing the desired results. New data led to new conversations and new questions.
Sentiments that were already increasing in nature such as “students don’t work as hard as they used to” and “students don’t care about grades like they used to” were compounded with the stressors of a pandemic, but were they factual? And how could we know?
When asking for help on analyzing data, a regional administrator shared some thoughts regarding the 2021-2022 school year:
For the past few months, I have not been able to stop thinking about the start of next school year. It does not matter whether a teacher has been teaching for 20, 10, 5, or even 1 school year, I just do not see how we can start next school year the same way we have any other year. The teaching and learning that has taken place has been so different that we need to reexamine what that looks like in terms of what and how we instruct students starting the new school year.
The nuts and bolts of the data project are this: we are reviewing skills-based report card data for the past several years as a means of identifying trends wherever possible. While I cannot share the details for most of that data, I would like you to consider the example in the graphic below.
The data graphed is collected over the last five school years (2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2020-2021) for all students at one grade level for a district using the four quarterly reports on a 4-point scale (1-below grade level, 2-below grade level and making progress, 3-at grade level/proficient, and 4-above grade level expectations).
There are many things that we can learn from this one graphic. We can see that scores for the 2019-2020 school year were not reported for quarters 3 and 4 in the same manner as had been done previously (due to the pandemic). We can see that the yearly trend for effort at this particular grade level trends slightly positively while remaining consistent at or about grade level expectations. We also see that during the 2020-2021 school year, a school year that opened dramatically different than any other school year for the current generation, this grade level of students has demonstrated notably greater effort than the recent years prior.
While I know there may be questions about the reliability of this particular perceptual data, the intent of this graphic is not to convince you to trust the data presented here. Rather, the purpose is for you to reconsider what it is that you think you know regarding pandemic teaching and learning. Making data-informed decisions is a practical way to do just that.
What data do you have available? What is it actually demonstrating? Why does that appear to be so? What implications does that yield as you move forward?
I would echo the sentiments from the regional administrator shared above. I cannot imagine the best pursuit for education would be to start the 2021-2022 school year as we would any normal year (however you would define a normal year), but don’t take my word for it. See what the data is showing you, and move forward from there.
By: Mark Beckwith, CA BOCES Professional Development