Education and Medicine

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.

6 replies on “Education and Medicine”

  1. You have just been dismissed as a teacher.
    The children have been dismissed as students.

    You no longer have a school, you have an experiment on humans with bad data without an Institutional Review Board.

    This is unconscionable.

  2. jenorr says:

    Michael, thank you for this. In the midst of things I’m not always certain I’m not crazy. I’m not always certain my thinking makes sense any more.

  3. I likewise have difficulties in meetings that discuss data instead of students. “But this assessment information is FROM students” is the snappy retort I usually receive when I play devil’s advocate. I believe we need to look at the WHOLE CHILD when considering strengths, needs, intervention, enrichment, instruction and accommodations, but that kind of information combines assessment, observation, anecdotal records, input from support staff and communication with parents/families, which takes t-i-m-e, something RTI, mastery goals and snake oil salesmen want to ignore.

    In my nineteen years, I’ve found that necessary interventions such as OT/PT, speech/language services and behavioral issues have the best chance of helping students when identified and put into place with developmentally appropriate expectations and goals early on. Reading and math interventions aren’t a quick fix in my opinion, which means accuracy in authentic and relevant assessments are A MUST. A screener must measure individual skills, be administered in a comfortable setting over an optimal amount of time (none of this 45 minute battery for a kindergartner!), and provide accurate information, er, DATA, that points teachers, staff and/or the intervention team toward targeted exposure, practice, and tools. This “whole child” map takes time to create.

    Putting an intervention based on inaccurate assessment results in place that might not address a student’s needs, insisting that data be collected on it for two weeks (or more) WASTES the time of students, teachers, and frankly, the intervention team. Needs aren’t being met, time that could be better spent collecting authentic data isn’t taking place, and opportunities to do what’s best for learners are put on hold just so paperwork and “the process” can be documented for future auditing (yes, special education info can be audited).

    The needs of the audit should not outweigh the needs of the child.

    • jenorr says:

      Michaele, there is so much here I want to applaud. I am such a believer in looking at the whole child, both as a teacher and as a parent. It is critical. But I am most struck by your last line, “The needs of the audit should not outweigh the needs of the child.” This is, too often, exactly what is happening in education today. Children are second to their data.

  4. You got me off on such a rant that I combined a singular with a plural! It should read “Reading and math interventions aren’t a quick fix in my opinion, which means accuracy in authentic and relevant assessments **IS** A MUST.”


    Also: the audit that can happen with special education documentation, to include intervention team decisions, is a process at the state level. Concerns, questions and suggestions for improvement from teachers, parents and admin should probably be directed to the Dept. of Education if RTI processes aren’t an effective fit.


  5. […] over by outsiders? For a more thoughtful reflection on this, please read my friend Jen Orr’s blog on this topic.  Actually, just read all her blog […]

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