Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Data driven off the deep end

Pam Allyn, Feb. 2017: Have we "medicalized reading" -- made it sound like a health emergency?

I remember, years ago, the first time I heard the phrase 'false positives.' Unsurprisingly, the context was medical. More surprisingly, it was awkwardly social as I found myself the plus-one at a a dinner sponsored by a medical imaging company. (Back when that sort of event was deemed kosher.)

Taking in the presentation along with some chocolate mousse, I reached the layman's conclusion that the spotlit imaging technology proffered both wonderful benefits and needless worry. For every legitimate problem detected, the cordial company representative warned, the equipment might flag false positives -- benign spots that looked, at first, malignant and might prompt unnecessarily invasive, costly treatments.

Now wearing my professional hat and considering digital reams of reading data for middle-school students, this notion of false positives looms again. The data are the fruits of the latest effort where I teach to screen kids (note: medical term) universally via online tools. The first broad strokes have me scratching my head about how best to prioritize next steps.

According to this one measure, sixth graders demonstrate a reading range from first through ninth grade; seventh graders from second through ninth; and eight graders from third through 10th.

My mind, untethered, spins with numbers. I feel urges to triangulate and validate. ("How much can the data be trusted?" a little voice in my head wonders.) I feel desperation to intervene, helping students progress at the low end, keeping students engaged and growing at the high end, not losing sight of students in the middle. ("Isn't this deficit mindset hurtful?" the same voice frets.)

Hundreds of snapshots of student literacy now in hand, I'm far from certain what I know even as there's no doubt I can't un-know it.

8 comments:

  1. Brian,
    You are so right to be skeptical.
    Confirm
    Confirm
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    A screener is big picture only and it's accuracy depends on so many variables. I worry that numbers are replacing thoughtful observations . . . and what the heck do those numbers mean?

    On this day only, here's one sample . . . take with a grain of salt!!!

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    1. Numbers + thoughtful observations = more reliable potential. Assuming I can account for confirmation bias :)

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  2. I know this struggle. I once had a bright student who was a slow talker. And, consequently, a slow reader. I argued long and hard to have her placed in a high group because she tested false positive as a struggling reader.

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  3. Brian, It sounds like you're already on the right track. You seem to be thinking about what else you know about these readers. Do they willingly choose books. Do they have reading preferences? What does their writing look like? Have they had any history of struggle or support...because by middle school it's probably not the first time someone has noticed if its hard.

    Then, when you've triangulated, you can still approach a striving reader from a strength-oriented, growth mindset instead of with a deficit model. Even if they are truly struggling to meet middle school reading demands, when you get to know the reader you'll find what they're already doing well and you'll decide how to help them be even stronger.

    It's probably not a journey you'll take all alone. You're going to need allies like the other teachers who work with these kiddos.

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    1. Definitely not a solo journey, though our collaborative efforts sometimes temporarily devolve to this: http://i45.tinypic.com/2vv42dd.png -- in which student=elephant, teachers=sightless people ;)

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