A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 18 2009

A Picture (Worth a Thousand Words)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I say, “true.”  But I also say that there is actually something more powerful than a picture worth a thousand words.  That would be a picture worth a thousand words and some words to accompany that picture.

Before the words, the picture:

I recently administered the Gates-MacGinitie reading test (TFA’s go-to reading diagnostic for secondary teachers) in my three periods.  The data I got back was shocking.  I won’t go into too much detail except to point out that I graphed a box and whisker plot of the reading levels.  Here are some key points:

  • The median reading levels (encompassing vocabulary and reading comprehension) for my students were 6.3, 7.4 and 7.3 respectively (the decimal denotes the month of the year–6.3 means the 3rd month of 6th grade).
  • The peculiar thing about the data is that, despite there being a wide variance in the shape (i.e. the distribution of reading levels) of each class’ box plot, the (achievement) gap–between where my students ought to be and where my median students are–is almost exactly 3.7 years.
  • That is a sobering statistic–think about what that means for a second.
  • Please think about it again.
  • I had 12 students (out of 70) at or above one year below their grade level (i.e. 12 students either (a) at or above 9th grade as 10th graders or (b) at or above 10th grade as 11th graders (the ends of the whiskers generally indicate maxima and minima–not always, but with this data, yes).
  • Not an insignificant number of students scored below a 6th grade reading level.

The caveats for this data are as follows:

  • Not every student has taken the test yet.
  • Some students did not appear to take the test seriously (the data for those who put their heads down immediately were discarded).
  • There were some minor disruptions during the test (e.g. talking, hall-walkers banging on door).

I am not going to spend time today reading too deeply into this data.  Honestly, I don’t think I need to.  The message is clear.  Regardless of who interprets or how one analyzes the chart, the implications are grim.  Someone or something has failed to provide an education to my students.


Tomorrow, I start week three in my own classroom (!).  Thankfully, I’m beginning to form bonds–albeit still tenuous ones–with my students.  Many still miss Ms. R.  I empathize with them.  As always, I will do my best to narrow the gap by teaching my students what they need to know–with a sense of urgency.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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