Today’s PLC Meeting: What Have We Learned?

This all needs to be prefaced by saying I have nothing but respect and admiration for the three colleagues in my Professional Learning Community. Although it’s an arranged marriage—in other words, we are assigned to be together—I couldn’t ask for better people to be linked with. My PLC-related questions and concerns have nothing to do with the people.

We are required to set percentage goals and create formative assessments for each of six “Critical Learning Standards.” Setting those goals was a little tricky. We didn’t want them to be too low—for fear of appearing to be slackers—or too high—for fear of being labeled failures if we didn’t reach our goals. When I consulted experts on how to set “Smart Goals,” the answers I received amounted to “Don’t set them too high or too low.” So, I felt pretty good about our general approach.

In order to arrive at the exact numerical percentage goal, and lacking a specific methodology for doing so, each of our PLC members chose what we thought was a pretty good number, and then we averaged them together. For Critical Learning Standard #1, the average of our best guesses was 83%.

Onward. Then we created a little formative assessment, designed as an “exit slip” that would tell us whether or not each student was successfully meeting that “Critical Learning Standard.” Critical means if you don’t do it, you die, so I sure hoped each student was meeting the standard.

Today, our PLC met. We are supposed to consider data during these meetings. As it turns out, our PLC members found that between 77% and 74% of our students were meeting Critical Learning Standard #1. Because our class sizes vary a little bit, the overall percentage of students meeting the standard was 76%. Because our goal was 83%, we fell a bit short. This is reported in our mandated SharePoint spreadsheet as a yellow number because we are within 10 points of achieving our goal. Formative assessments that are more than 10 points away from the goal are reported in red. These SharePoint spreadsheets are available for perusal by anyone who works in our five-school district.

These are my questions:

• What does 76% mean? Is that good? If we had set our original goal at 75% instead of at 83%, we would have a green number in our SharePoint spreadsheet.

• By collaboratively looking at the results of our formative assessment, we found a flaw that we would like correct. Does that invalidate our numbers and put us back at the beginning of the process?

• Did the teacher whose percentage was 77% do something remarkably better than the other teachers with slightly lower numbers?

I have no answers to those questions. The only thing I know is that nothing from this process provided me with anything that I can put to use for the benefit of my students.

While teachers in our district went through this process today, more than 12,000 students slept in for an extra 90 minutes. We do this ten times a year. Yes, students are taken out of class for 900 minutes each year while we do PLC meetings. We have been doing this for a few years, and our test scores have remained mostly flat.

I wonder what would happen to our achievement levels if we put our students in class for those 900 minutes a year instead of them being at home in bed, or if teachers were empowered to design their own approaches to student improvement rather than following mandates and color-coded scripts.

I’m pretty sure I do know the answers to those questions.

Cross-posted on English Companion Ning

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3 Responses to Today’s PLC Meeting: What Have We Learned?

  1. Karen LaBonte @klbz says:

    I am sitting here, trying to come up with a snappy, funny remark. I am afraid I could sit here all night; there is nothing even vaguely amusing about the horror show that is known as data-driven assessment.

    Standing with you,

  2. Here is a beautiful example of how education takes a potentially good idea and turns it into, well, a waste of time. Once upon a time this research came out of Japan about teachers using “lesson study” where they would develop a lesson together, each teach it, observe each other and share insights. If you look at the research behind PLCs, it’s supposed to be much the same idea. But in our “quantify everything” frenzy, we’ve turned the PLCs into another form of number crunching. What if we allowed PLC groups to, call me crazy, read a bit of research or pedagogy, or a book like Expository Composition, and talked about implications for the classrooom, crafted ideas together, shared insights and frustrations about how it went in the classroom? Would we change things? Funny thing is, some of that original research says we would. Sigh….I fell your pain, my friend. In my grand vision of the world, we would let the professionals (teachers) design their professional development in their PLC- create the essential questions they want answered and work towards answering them in their classrooms. Too crazy? Hang in there! One thing I do know is that those students of yours are darn lucky to have you! And not just 77% of them :-)

  3. Excuse the typos above. It’s been a long day! Guess I would only get a 74% on the benchmark, huh?

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