Be the change, books, Literacy

On Blind Spots and Doing Better When We Know Better

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my journey with the book When We Was Fierce and in particular the journey with realizing that a book I had marveled at and called a must read was being critically reviewed by others. While at first I was embarrassed by my enthusiasm and not knowing better, in the blog post I wrote about the growth I had when I put away my own embarrassment and instead approached the moment as a learning opportunity, simply put; when I knew better, I could do better. It is a journey I have tried to continue on ever since.

Since that post, I have tried to be more in tune with critical reviews. I have tried to read new or old books that come my way with a broader lens trying to step out of my own lived experience to discover how others may view a book. How others may be potentially harmed by a book. How others may have world view shaped in a an inaccurate manner because of a book. While the voice in my head has gotten better at alerting me to potentially problematic texts, it is far from perfect and it is a journey I continue to be on.

I share this because this week I published my best books of the year so far list, a list I try to carefully put together in order to help others find books that may heighten their reading experiences. It is also a list for myself to look back upon as I celebrate the incredible works put out in the world that have deepened my own children’s’ reading lives as well as my teaching experience. This morning, I woke to a tweet sent to me by a colleague highlighting a potentially problematic book on the list.

My response: Thank you, I will definitely look into it. Which I did.

Dr. Laura M. Jimenez (@BookToss) had written a great post detailing problematic aspects of the book Stonewall: A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution by Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph. This book was on my best of the year so far list and a book I had really enjoyed, even contemplating how I could use it as part of our upcoming historical research unit where we will write from the perspective of an object. While I had read the book and the voice inside my head had noticed how there didn’t seem to be a broad acknowledgement of the trans community, I had put aside my concern rather than followed up on it, despite having also read the book The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman that had explicitly discussed the broad community anger and how this went past the mostly gay men present in the inn on the first night of the riots. Dr. Jimenez discussed those concerns and then some in her blog post, and also received a reply from the author, Rob Sanders, which I really think you should read.

After reading the blog post, the concerns with the book were crystal clear so I pondered why I had I put aside my concerns? The answer? Because I really liked the book AND also because of my lack of knowledge. While I had a minor concern, I didn’t follow up on it and instead chose to highlight the book because I thought that it would be great for others to read. End of story.

And this is what I want to write a little bit about, because those two things, dismissing our concerns and not knowing better, are exactly why I think many, especially white, educators keep problematic books in classrooms and home collections year after year. I know the emotional attachment is what makes me sometimes try to mentally finagle a way to be okay with a book in our collection that may do potential harm. Even though I know better. Even though I end up not placing it in our library because I know better. But how often do we, and especially us white educators who live within the dominant lens, simply not know better? Or how often do we dismiss the criticisms because we somehow think that having the book will surely alert students to their own concerns and then be able to navigate potential problems within it?

But here’s the thing, if I, as a 39 -year old educator who has taught for nearly 12 years and reads hundreds of books, as well as reviews of books, and critical discussions of books every year cannot figure out on my own that a book is problematic, then how can I expect my students to do so?

Because they won’t, not unless we teach it, not unless we discuss our own mistakes when it comes to reading and highlighting problematic texts. This is why I use the book The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winters in my classroom. While I had the book at first because I loved it and had already read it aloud to my classroom, after I read Dr. Deb Reese’s post on the problems with it, I re-visited the book with students and we discussed why we had not ourselves caught these problems with the text and instead taken it at face-value. It led to a larger discussion on what else we miss when we don’t know more, or the blind spots we all walk around with and how to shrink them.

This is why we must do better when it comes to vetting our own collections and also being okay with admitting it out loud. I know that there are a lot of emotions attached to books and their creators. I know I don’t want to hurt other people when I distance myself from their work. I know that many educators, me included, like to think that I know enough to carefully select books that will not present problematic, inaccurate, or full on harmful stories to my students, but that is simply not right. Even though I have grown and gotten better, I have so much to learn still. I will, probably despite my best intentions, continue to embrace books that because of my own lens, my limited perspective, I cannot see the problems in until others point it out.

So what can we do when we realize either through our own investigation that a book is problematic or when someone else points out harmful representation or stories?

Say thank you when someone points it out. We cannot grow if we don’t know what we need to do better on. That is why recognizing when someone offers you an opportunity to grow and acknowledging it as an opportunity to grow rather than getting defensive is always the best way.

Get over our own feelings. Is it embarrassing to screw up? Absolutely. Would I rather do well? Sure. Do I learn from these interactions? Every time. However, when our response is one of incredulity or dismissal we are not really growing, we are certainly not focusing our energy on what we should be focusing on, which is the conversation surrounding the text or illustrations rather than our own feelings. (I am listening to White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and this is part of what she discusses).

Read the criticism, seek to understand it, and ask questions. I always read or listen to what is being said and then try to find other voices who are discussing it as well. If I am not sure why something is being discussed the way it is, then I ask questions. That is why I love being connected to others because social media gives me a quick way to reach out.

Take action outwardly. Whether it is publicly acknowledging your screw up if you have recommended it, or spreading the word by amplifying the discussion happening, do your part. It is often isolating to be someone pointing out critical aspects so knowing that there are others who will back up your words and calls to action is powerful.

Transfer the knowledge. Teach this critical skill to students by also connecting them with book reviews blogs so that they can be adults who have access to information, so that they can notice their blind spots, and also try to see whether a book may be harmful or not. Make it a part of your already embedded curriculum units so that it is not a stand-alone lesson but instead one that is addressed in many different ways. After all, isn’t teaching critical analysis one of our main teaching goals?

Take actions personally. Remove the book altogether or use it to discuss blind spots like I have done with a few books, but do something, rather than just push it aside because “no one will know that you still have the book.” While that may be true, this is also an incredibly twisted way of looking at the process. While it feels very strange to throw books in the garbage, almost sacrilegious, yet sometimes, that is where certain books belong. Don’t just say you will do something, actually do it.

Try to do better in the future. While I definitely catch more problematic books before I recommend them than I have in the past; as evidenced by this post I still have a lot to learn. All of us do. But the good news is that through social media we can easily learn from others as long as we are willing.

Finally; say thank you and support those doing the work. Thank you to those who tirelessly advocate for better representation within the book industry. Who repeatedly point out when texts or illustrations are problematic. Who take the heat that comes their way over and over again when others accuse them of being in a “mob” or even sends them death threats. Because of people like Dr. Reese, Dr. Jimenez, Edi Campbell, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Valeria Brown, Chad Everett and the fearless educators, authors, and activists involved in #WeNeedDiverseBooks #OwnVoices, #DisruptTexts, Reading While White, LatinX in Kid Lit, and #DiversityJedi I have grown as a reader of books and that matters because the books I share are used within my own classroom, as well as recommended to others on a global scale.

So what did I end up doing with Stonewall the book that started this whole blog post? I removed it from my best books of the year so far list and with the encouragement of Dr. Jimenez wrote this blog post to make my thinking visible. While I love the missing parts of history that the book represents, I cannot use it as an actual representation of what happened that night, there is too much missing.

And that is where I start my summer vacation. Knowing that I have so much to still learn about others and from others. Not a bad way to start my summer as I try to grow as a person and as an educator. I now know better, so hopefully I can do better. Can’t we all?

Be the change

To Our Daughter’s 4th Grade Teacher

To Thea’s 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson,

Tonight, during bedtime, Thea looked sad. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me in that heavy way that only kids can seemingly pull off that she doesn’t want 4th grade to end. That she doesn’t want to leave her friends. That she doesn’t want to leave you.

That while summer will be fun, and 5th grade might be cool, she would be okay with simply staying in 4th grade for a long time. With you.

This is from the same child who in August begged us to not send her to school. Who asked over and over again if she could just go somewhere else. If she could be homeschooled. Who asked us what she should do when the bullying would start back up, because she knew it would. Who asked us if we thought that this would be a year where she would make more friends. Who asked us in a way that told us that she had little hope for the year ahead.

This kid. This beautiful, strong-willed, stubborn girl doesn’t want to head into summer. Doesn’t want to spend days doing nothing. Doesn’t want to go on vacation, or go to the pool. Not it if means 4th grade is over.

That’s how good you have made it for her. That’s how much of a difference you have made in the life of a girl who didn’t think school would ever be safe again.

So if you are ever in doubt about what you do, much like we as educators sometimes are. If you are ever in doubt whether you are making a difference, whether what you do matters, let me tell you this, and the rest of the world to…

You helped our daughter feel safe.

You helped our daughter feel like she belongs.

You helped our daughter find her own strength once again.

You helped our daughter come back to what she was before 3rd grade. Before those kids took so much of her away from us.

And there are simply not enough words for us to thank you. This is my feeble declaration of the deepest gratitude.

So to all the teachers who tried this year. Who gave it their best. Who worked tirelessly so that kids, all kids, could feel safe, could feel accepted, could feel loved, may you know that there are kids in the world, at my house, who are hoping that school will never end just so they can keep being with you.

We go to school every day hoping that what we do matters, and sometimes we don’t know if it does.

But let me tell you this, Mrs. Thompson, and all of the other staff members who helped our daughter rise up out of the ashes; you did this, and it matters, more than you will ever know.

With our deepest gratitude,

Pernille and Brandon

Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

White, Black,  Free Image

I have been thinking a lot about failure. About this whole notion of growth mindset and having kids take risks. About how often we ask kids to just keep trying even when it is hard yet seem to fail to do so ourselves. About how often we expect kids to give us their all, their best, their utmost, and then for them to navigate the pieces when it all falls apart, after all isn’t that what having grit teaches you to do?

About the supposed safety nets we have in place for students to fail safely.

About how we tell them that experimentation is great, that trying something new is the way to learn, about stretching themselves into unknown territory so they can discover who they truly are.

About how it doesn’t all add up.

Because the thing is, and I know I have said this before, we say a lot of things as educators without really thinking about what we are asking all kids to do. We say a lot of things without looking at the systems we already have in place, the routines and procedures that wield so much power in our schools that actively fight against this whole notion of embracing failure as another way to learn.

Take grades for example. We tell kids to take risks but then expect them to all succeed even if on shaky ground. If they don’t, then their scores or assessments reflect that. How often do we fail to recognize that it is because we attach subjective scores to something that we boil learning and curiosity into something we never intended. It becomes nothing more than an experiment in playing the grade game rather than the true learning experience it should be.

Take control and compliance. How often do our beginning of the year routines surround getting kids to be quiet, to sit still, to only ask questions when we designate the time for it. To make only the smallest of spaces for themselves in order for all of us to function because you can’t have a functioning classroom if kids are too loud, too energetic, or take up too much space.

Take how we handle behaviors. How often the preferred method is social isolation playing itself out in some form of removal from the classroom. How often we ask kids to leave in order for us to keep teaching and yet we see the behaviors continue as they rejoin us because nothing has changed in the experience, only paused.

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

How often we tell our dreamer kids to come back to Earth.

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

How often we somehow tell kids that to be a successful student all you have to do is play by the rules but then we never hand them a rule book or we change the rules altogether.

And then we wonder why kids say they don’t think school is for them.

So as we race toward the end of the year, or perhaps only the middle depending on your hemisphere, I want to take a moment to think about what my students are telling me they need. About what I am telling them not just with my words, but in my actions, my routines, and my expectations.

About how I need to continue to ask whether I not only would want to be a student in my own classroom, but also could be a successful one. About how we need to not give students a voice because they already have one, but instead need to carve out an authentic space for the things they have to say.

How it starts with asking questions – do you feel respected, does this learning matter, how can we create engaging learning opportunities together? How it continues with reflection – how is my voice and my power being used as a potential tool for inequity, does every child feel safe with me, does every child have a chance of truly belonging? How it rests with us as we realize that there is still so much to be done, and yet so that can be done if we start within the small decisions we make every day. If we take apart the small routines and structures that we put in place to make it work for everyone and ask whether it truly works for everyone, because almost everyone is not close enough. How along with our thoughts surrounding how we want to have better curriculum, we also need to think of how we want students to feel with us and then how we are going to accomplish that.

How when they tell us that they want to change the world, we start with the one they live in every day; our classrooms, our schools, our attitudes.

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

Because much like our students, we all have so much to learn. I have so much to learn. I have so much more failing to do, only so I can keep growing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change

Before They Tell You…

Before they leave.

Before they say goodbye or perhaps they don’t.

Before the last locker is left open.

The final pencil broken.

The room that looks so empty, the hallways so silent.

Before you realize that you never did quite get to all of the things you had hoped, but boy, did you get to a lot.

Before you realize that you can finally let go of that breath you have seemingly been holding for the past many months when you thought about these kids and those choices and their future.

Before you realize that sometimes so long really means goodbye because before the summer ends so does their lease.

Before they tell you it’s finally summer.

Before they tell you again how they can’t wait.

Before they tell you once again that they don’t really think they will be reading, but nice try anyway.

Before the last notebook is forgotten. The final sweaters left behind.

Before the final bus pulls out and you finally know that it is truly done.

Before they tell you it mattered.

Start out the conversation yourself.

Tell them that you wouldn’t trade a moment.

Tell them that you are so glad you got this year with them. That you know you have changed because of them.

That they will always be your kids.

That they will always have a home.

That there will always be a book, a hug, a piece of gum.

But tell them they are ready, even if you’re not.

Tell them that you are proud of them.

That they will be okay. That they are okay.

That you have an incredible job because they are a part of it.

Tell them you cared.

Tell them thank you.

Because without them it wouldn’t really have mattered at all…

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, summer

Ending the Year on a High Note – Some Must Do’s As We Wrap Up

Yesterday, I wrote about what I wanted out of the year and how it had gone, and yet, within that post is also the hope for the coming few months, for the coming year. Isn’t it funny how we, as educators, already start to plan for the “new” year already in the spring?

And so with only a few precious weeks left, I wanted to once again share what my Must-Do’s for the year are in case anyone else wants a few ideas.

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow. To see this year’s survey, paper copy go here – I will do it as electronic version as well, to see that go here

I plan on keeping certain experiences and make a map.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps us think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start. We have started as a team to create our map for the upcoming year, this helps us plan and discuss what we want our students to experience with us.

I plan on face to face collaboration. Our district believes in paying teachers to collaborate over the summer, which I plan on once again taking advantage of. So as I take on a new class next year (Enriched English), I plan on spending time with those who know more than me. I am so grateful for this opportunity for concentrated learning.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  Goodbye feedback tracker! Goodbye reading rate tracker! Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  Every year, i do revamp of our room, but this year I get to move rooms altogether to a larger room with more room for all of our books. So not only do I get to go through everything, but I also get to set up a whole new experience for the students. However, if I wasn’t moving, I would still move furniture, go through files, weed books, and just refresh everything. While we don’t have a lot of fancy furniture, these small changes help keep the pride in the room intact which shapes the experience.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing continues to be a focal point, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more meaningful writing experiences that will help students reignite their writing identities, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together. Some of these books are re-reads, others are brand new and I cannot wait to let the work of others shape the every day work I get to do with students.

My stack of summer PD reading awaits – I can’t wait.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us as it kicks off next weekend!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


assessment, Be the change, testing

Dear STAR Test, We Need to Talk Again…

Three years ago, almost to this date, I wrote my first blog post about the STAR test, a test sold by Renaissance Learning and employed in thousands of districts across the United States. That post started a discussion with the people behind STAR and while I wish I could say that it created change, isn’t that after all what we always hope for, it didn’t. Three years later, on the eve of my final STAR reading test of the year, I return to those same questions, once again hoping for some clarity, some light to be shed on how this test can be sold as a valid assessment tool.

Because, dear STAR test, it just doesn’t seem like you have evolved much from when we first started together. That in the three years since I last wrote to you hoping for some answers, that you have changed much. I guess, I could count your fancy new interface as change, but really all that has done is cause me to spend more time searching for the things I need in order to try to figure out what my students’ results supposedly are and what they may mean. But the essence of you, a comprehensive reading test that will quickly give me an elaborate understanding of 46 reading skills in 11 different domains remains the same. And much like so many of your cousins, all of the other computer tests who are supposed to be useful in our instruction, I keep feeling like I get the short end of the stick. Like a fool when I tell my students to show off their knowledge, to prove to the computer what we already know; just how much they have grown, just how much stronger they are.

Because according to the tests today, I have pretty much made all of my students worse readers than when they started. Or amazing super readers whose results are so incredible I want to cry tears of joy. It happens every year it seems. That the computer test tells us that they exploded, or that they didn’t grow or in fact reversed their abilities, but the face-to-face tests tell us a different story. The conversations we assess in their book clubs that show deep critical analysis and understanding. The written depth of their knowledge as they explore what it means to think about others’ stories and how it may affect them. How we see them share books, read books, recommend books.

And so that old letter stands the test of time, which is why I am reposting it, because honestly, now three years later into this relationship, I am still wondering why I bother. Why I get my hopes up for reliable, useable date? Why I tell my students to try their hardest? Why we take the time to try to do it right? Because I want to believe in you, STAR, I really do, but at this point, I am just not sure you are worth my time.

So Dear STAR test, we need to talk…again

We first met five years ago, I was fresh out of a relationship with MAP, that stalwart older brother of yours that had taken up hours of my 5th graders time.  They took their time and the results were ok; sometimes, at least we thought so but we were not sure.  But oh the time MAP and I spent together that could have been used for so many better things.

So when I heard about you, STAR, and how you would give me 46 reading skills in 11 different domains in just 30 or so questions, I was intrigued.  After all, 34 timed questions meant that most of my students would spend about 20 or so minutes with you.  You promised me flexibility and adaptation to my students with your fancy language where you said you “…combine computer-adaptive technology with a specialized psychometric test design.”  While I am not totally sure what psychometric means, I was always a sucker for fancy words.   Game on.

With your fast-paced questions, I thought of all the time we would save.  After all, tests should be quick and painless so we can get on with things, right?  Except giving my students only 90 seconds to read a question and answer it correctly meant they got awfully good at skimming, skipping lines, and in general being more worried about timing out than being able to read the whole text.

In fact, every year I have a child in tears who tell me that the timer popped up when they were still reading, that their anxiety is peeking because of that timer.  (Fun fact, if a child times out of a question it is treated as incorrect).  For vocabulary, all they get is 45 seconds because either they know it or they don’t, never mind that some of my kids try to sound words out and double-check their answer all within those precious seconds, just like I have taught them to do.  I watched in horror as students’ anxiety grew.  In fact, your 90 second time limit on reading passages meant that students started to believe that being a great reader was all about speed.  Nevermind, that Thomas Newkirk’s research into reading pace tells us that we should strive for a comfortable pace and not a fast one.  So yes, being a slow reader= bad reader.  

And sure, we could just turn the time off except that is not a decision I am allowed to make as an educator because that is a power given to the administration level, not the individual. On a larger scale, the fact that the product even comes with a time limit should be debated further; what does time have to do with reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge besides the selling point of being able to administer it quickly or as you say “there are time limits for individual items intended to keep the test moving and maintain test security?” What does that do to bolster the validity of our test? How is that supported by best practice?

And so for some reason, year after year, I keep hoping that this will be the year where the data will truly be useful. Where I will gain knowledge that I can use to shape my teaching, isn’t that, after all, what the whole purpose of collecting data on our students is? But much like previous years, the results are a kaleidoscope of fragmented stories that refuse to fit together into a valid picture.  Students whose scores dropped 4 grade levels and students whose scores jumped 4 grade levels.  Students who made no growth at all.  Once again, I spend the day questioning my capabilities as a teacher because I don’t know what to take credit for.  Is it possible that I am the worst teacher ever to have taught 7th grade ELA or perhaps the best?  You confuse me, STAR, on so many occasions.  

As in previous year, students whose score differences are significant sometimes get to re-test, after all, perhaps they are just having a bad day?  And sure, sometimes they have gone up more than 250 points, all in the span of 24 hours, but other times they have dropped that amount as well.  That is a lot of unmotivated or “bad day” students apparently.   And yet, you tell me that your scores are reliable, and you’re not alone, many studies say you are too, yet that is simply not what we see every day in our classroom.  Although, this study (sponsored by you_did point out that you are most reliable between 1st and 4th grade, so where does that leave my 7th graders?

And last time I dug around your reports, I found that according to your own research at the 7th-grade reading level you only got a score of 0.73 retest reliability which you say is really good but to me doesn’t sound that way (page 54) 0.73 – shouldn’t it be closer to 1.0? If we look at the Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability that is only acceptable. And I guess that’s what I keep coming back to. Is your reliability simply measured as compared to other tests who are also problematic in their assessment methods and who we also know do not give us overly valid results?   Who knows, you would need a math degree to dig through your technical manual to make sense of all of the numbers.

Yet through all of this, you have dazzled me with your data, even know when I dig into your research I keep getting tripped up in your promises of reliable test scores, of comparable rest results, of scores that mean something, but what it is they actually mean, I am not quite sure of.  With all of the reports that I could print out and pour over.  Perhaps you were not accurate for all of my students, but certainly, you had to be for some.  It wasn’t until a long night spent pondering why some of my students’ scores were so low that I realized that in your 0.73 reliability lies my 0.27 insecurity.  After all, who are those kids whose scores are not reliable?   I could certainly guess but the whole point of having an accurate assessment means that I shouldn’t have to.  So it doesn’t feel like you are keeping up your end of the deal anymore, STAR test.  In fact, I am pretty sure that my own child will never make your acquaintance, at least not if we, her parents, have anything to say about it.

So dear STAR test, I love data as much as the next person.  I love reliable, accurate data that doesn’t stress my students out.  That doesn’t make them really quiet when they realize that perhaps they didn’t make the growth.  I love data that I can rely on and it turns out STAR, I just don’t think you fit that description, despite the efforts of those who take you.  Perhaps I should have realized that sooner when I saw your familial relationship with Accelerated Reader.  Don’t even get me started on that killer of reading joy.  You even mention it yourself in your technical manual that there may be measurements errors.  You said,  Measurement error causes students’ scores to fluctuate around their “true scores”. About half of all observed scores are smaller than the students’ true scores; the result is that some students’ capabilities are underestimated to some extent.”  Granted it wasn’t until page 81.  So you can wow me with all of your data reports.  With all of your breakdowns and your fancy graphs.  You can even try to woo me with your trend scores, your anticipated rate of growth and your national percentile rankings.  Your comparability scores to other state testing. But it is not enough, because none of that matters if I can’t count on you to provide me with accurate results. It doesn’t matter if I can’t trust what you tell me about my students.

So I wish  I could break up with you, but it seems we have been matched for the long run for now.  All I can be thankful for is that I work for a district that sees my students for more than just one test, for more than just their points because does anyone actually know what those points mean?  I can be so thankful that I work in a district that encourages us to use STAR as only one piece of the data puzzle, that chooses to see beyond it so we can actually figure out a child’s needs.   But I know I am lucky, not everyone that is with you has that same environment. So dear STAR, I wish you actually lived up to all of your fancy promises, but from this tired educator to you; it turns out I don’t need you to see if my students are reading better because I can just ask them, watch them, and see them grow as they pick up more and more books.  So that’s what I plan on doing rather than staring at your reports, because in the end, it’s not really you, it’s me.  I am only sorry it took me so long to realize it.

Best,

Pernille

PS: In case it needs to be spelled out, this post does not reflect the official view of my employer.