Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I have the privilege of teaching in a collaborative classroom where Mr. Beasley (the general education teacher) and I seek to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Mr. Beasley and I often look to each other and ask, Are we setting these kids up for success? This is my first year spending all day in a general education classroom; as such, it is my first year that the question of student success is sprinkled with SOL dust. While we know it’s “just a test”, we want them to pass! We want our students to be proud of themselves, and we want them to feel successful, by whatever measure presented.

But I know we should consider other forms of data. Not all data is a plus or minus sign: right or wrong. Data can also take the form of anecdotal notes, like the ones we’re receiving from parents that say their kids are reading more this year than they’ve ever seen them read before. That’s right, at home, they are picking up books and reading like they never have before. Talk about the greatest gift a teacher can receive. Some might say that a test will prove whether or not this is true, and I could see their side of the argument: Is the child comprehending? Is the reading level increasing? But at the end of the day, what does a “successful” adult reader look like…?

Do confidence and manners count toward measuring success? As a parent, my gut instinct is that they count even more than test scores. If we’re looking at success as living the life of your choosing, you first need confidence to pursue your dreams, and you need manners to prove – in an interview and while networking – that you are the best person for the job. I do have anecdotal data to prove that a few students in our class who were not independently contributing to classroom debates are doing so today. It’s a little harder to measure the increase in the number of times we hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, simply because I have not recorded it with a pencil, but with daily reminders that we should all be asking, How can I help you?  we must be on the right track…right?

Last night, we watched our 5th graders in the winter performance. Maybe I’m biased, but the majority of the speaking roles seemed to have been distributed amongst members of our class. I could be wrong about this – it may have just been the proud mother in me that saw my students shine above the rest on stage – but either way, in my eyes, it was success.

Group work, independent thought, problem solving, self-respect, respect for others, initiative… All of these are at the crux of what we value and expect in our classroom. But I guess at the end of the day, while we take pride in the developing character of our students, our fear is whether or not we are delivering the content-rich curriculum that will create the academic skillset for success…

Please don’t get me wrong in this post. All of our lessons are developed to align with the pacing and curricular framework that state and local educators have worked diligently to establish. But as we prepare for our first measurement of growth (winter MAP testing), as responsible practitioners we must reflectively ask ourselves, Are we setting our students up for success? I sure hope so, but I also know that just as they are growing, so too are we.  And if those scores don’t show us what we want to see, we will make it better. We will learn what we need to. And I hope and pray that we will set them up for success.