Putting Students in the Driver's Seat

February 4, 2020


In a Bronx high school late last fall, I sit down next to a supremely disengaged kid. 6'4", hoodie up, slouched down, back of the classroom, he's clearly trying to hide his way through this Tuesday morning Living Environment Regents prep class. No such luck. I'd found him. We exchange names. "What're you doing here today, Jorge?" He gestures diffidently at a beautifully structured 5 page work packet on mitosis and meosis. Blank. "Okay," I say, sliding it to the space between us. He turns to me. "You know what I got on my last LE Regents? A 64, a 64." He's worked up now. "One teacher couldn't figure out how to give me one point on the stupid test. One point..." "That's a bummer," I say. "Let's get after it and do this." He sighs, picks up his pen, and in a matter of minutes blasts through two pages of the packet. Everything is correct. It is not what he needs.

Imagine that you depended on your auto mechanic to interpret your car’s dashboard for you. That is the situation for most students in schools today. By and large, they are having massive amounts of performance data collected from and about them, but they are infrequently brought into the conversation about the data, much less trained to interpret and respond to it themselves. Obviously this is absurd. Without a clear understanding of where they are, it’s very difficult for students themselves to plan any meaningful improvement strategy.

Click me In our experience at Teaching Matters, nowhere is this problem more acute than at the high school level. While high school students possess both the critical thinking skills and the self efficacy to interpret and respond to their mastery data, they are routinely under-informed and given inadequate time to plan and autonomy to execute learning plans tailored to their needs.

At the same time, they are faced with the most consequential high stakes tests in the state, the Regents exams, which are gateways to future coursework, graduation and college placement. Whether these exams will persist in their current state, be modified or done away with entirely does not alter the argument that students need to be fully read in on their related performance data so they can help chart their pathway to success.

The tools to engage students in their data need not be complex. What does require thoughtful planning is structuring the time for students to reflect on their performance data and set goals, and then creating flexible learning and assessment environments so that students have the time, resources and support to target their areas of growth. A strong, personalized assessment plan also needs to be in place so that as students become ready to test their proficiency on skills or domains of knowledge, they can do so and receive feedback quickly.

In Jorge's class, everyone is working on the same thing at the same time. The content has taken a back seat to the teaching of generic test taking skills. It turns out, he has not seen his last exam's results. He has no insight into his relative mastery levels for the 8 key ideas covered on the test. More pointedly, he has no space, time or guidance about how to work on his own to fill the gaps he needs filled. It's a recipe for disengagement.

A simple data review and reflection sheet is a good place to start, but only if the learning priorities outlined by the student are regularly followed up on by both student and teacher. From a data display standpoint, the individual student reports provided by the New Visions data portal provide clearer information to drive goal setting. Paired with the portal's quiz generator or a third party assessment generator like Problem-Attic, teachers can partner with students to create customized learning and assessment paths that will significantly increase student time working in their zone of proximal development. When students can see the road ahead, and monitor their own progress, the road to success gets a lot clearer.

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Nick Siewert


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