Just the word, data, is enough to send chills down the spine when it is so often misused or weaponized against a student or a teacher. We record information about all kinds of test scores, and suddenly kids are reduced to numbers and dots on a so-called data wall. We use all kinds of red, yellow, and green stickers to show success; yet we never measure the joy of learning, the sweet taste of success, or the motivation to attack a challenge. We don't ever get to the heart of learning, because we are too often only concerned with the muscles. I tell you now, it takes both.
Fortunately, our current principal gets this. He is, by nature, a "data man". He loves to crunch the numbers and find points of interest, but he still gets that matters of the heart, the emotions, and everyday life must somehow be factored into the equation. Every point on a graph can be questioned and thought out with logic rather than just being a rock that needs to be moved from here to there. There is no reason to get too deep into the weeds without consideration of each life and soul.
So when the principal displayed some data at last week's faculty gathering, I took notice. It wasn't in the weeds at all; it just floated on the surface for consideration. It seems that, across the board, our students this year came to school in the fall with much lower math scores than reading scores. That was easy to recognize at the time, and it made a lot of sense to me. I remember thinking that this was a relief, because math is something a little more tangible and something that can be easily improved. We all got to work. While we didn't neglect reading, we wanted to work on something that needed to be fixed. After all, these students missed a quarter of their third grade year when the world was locked down at home for a virus in the spring.
The result of our effort was that math scores exceeded our growth goals while reading remained steady. The question, asked the principal, is why. Why?
And so I did what I do. I sat and listened to his "pep talk", while at the same time, I pondered the question (Ponder, ponder, ponder.), and I like what I came up with. I could be wrong, but I think it makes sense. I won't go into a lot of my own personal development, but suffice it to say, reading is different than math. Got that? We can all agree on that, right? Reading and math are not the same.
Math, on the other hand, builds in an entirely different manner. There are basics - numbers and operations - that remain constant, but there are also new concepts to be stacked onto prior foundations. It happens every year. Students come to me, recognizing their numbers and even understanding place value. They realize that there are four basic operations - subtraction, addition, multiplication, and division. We still have to reinforce those skills, but we also have to build on them. It's different than flexing the same muscles and building bulk. Instead, we use those building blocks and move them around in new ways.
Students find themselves multiplying multi-digit numbers. They learn to measure area and perimeter. They work on long division. And look out, fourth graders: here comes the whole fractional sandbox!
In context of these thoughts, that means with math students are learning what they perceive to be new things. It can be exciting. It's not just the same thing made more difficult. Therefore, everything is new and interesting. Learn something in math and retake the test. Now, you'll be able to answer a question or two more than you did last time.
Reading doesn't work in the same manner, and growth in reading is simply different. The test is different. The skills are different. They build, but they don't feel "new". Don't put the data side-by-side and say that we're failing in one and gaining in the other. Don't tell the teacher s/he needs to work harder to make them the two subjects level. It just doesn't work that way.