These two fields have a lot in common. We like to think of both of them as being sciences, but they are often much more of an art. At times, doctors have the benefit of blood tests or chromosomal tests or urine tests or some other form of test to definitively make a diagnosis. Of course, none of those tests is proof positive some other issue isn’t present as well. So even those tests are just a start. Much of the time, doctors are listening to patients describe symptoms, taking some vital signs, possibly doing some research, and using their experience and knowledge to plan a course of action.
This is what we do as teachers. We listen to students, we observe students, we read and talk with others, and we use our experience and knowledge to plan a course of action.
Today I sat in a meeting (I should begin skipping meetings given my responses to them lately) in which we looked at many of our kiddos to plan ways to support them and help them move forward. All of these plans were based on two pieces of data. One piece was a quick, ESOL assessment students were given at the beginning of the school year. No one seems to believe this assessment is very accurate or meaningful. In fact, right now we are in the midst of administering a second ESOL assessment, much more lengthy and intense. The fall assessment appears to simply give students’ ESOL levels until this second assessment is finished and scored. (It’s possible there are things I don’t know about this, quite possible.) So, one piece of data we’re using is questionable, even to the people telling us to use it. The second piece of data is a better one, it’s the Developmental Reading Assessment. It was also given much more recently. It is however, one quick snapshot of students’ reading ability. A bad day, being hungry, not liking the book, or a host of other reasons could mean students didn’t perform well on that opportunity.
In the meeting I mentioned that a couple of my students likely had somewhat different needs than the ESOL assessment suggested. I was told we must use those two pieces of data now and could reevaluate in a few weeks when we have new data to prove my beliefs. (It’s not clear what that new data will be but it will not be either of these assessments.) None of the data I have collected in guided reading groups, reading conferences, or during whole class lessons could be used right now.
We made detailed plans based on two snapshot pieces of data. One of which is months old.
Can you imagine if your doctor suggested a prescription based on a medical test from five months ago? Regardless of your current symptoms?
What if your doctor told you what to do based on one test? Even if it didn’t really fit your symptoms? What would you do? I bet you’d look for a new doctor pretty quickly.