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The Right Fit

A new school year has begun, and I wanted to share with you a great moment from these early days.

One of my colleagues and two of my students have been big contributors to the smile on my face this week. At the end of last year, we did some off-level assessments on a couple of my students who have repeatedly hit the ceilings on grade-level assessments. We obviously knew they were "up there," but we didn't know just how far. And we therefore were uncertain as to what the right placement (in their case, in mathematics) was. Off-level (or "out-of-level") assessments are a great way to find out where these outliers really are in their learning growth and progress.

To understand above-level testing better, I highly recommend this article posted at the Davidson Institute. In one example, the author talks about how ineffective a five-foot measuring stick would be to measure how tall the students are. All students five feet and taller end up with the same measurement because that's as high as the instrument goes, but we don't know just how tall some of them are. It requires a longer stick to get accurate measurement on the height outliers. The same applies to our learning outliers. We need a longer stick, an assessment with a much higher ceiling. And a test from one or (usually) more grades above the child's grade level extends that ceiling and provides room for the child to show just where she's really at in her growth and learning progress.

Our middle school (which is grades 5-8) has some effective assessments that we use when a new student arrives to help give us some idea of where to place that child in reading and math. So it was those assessments that we used last spring for these then 3rd graders. The results showed that the best placement for them this year in math was our advanced 5th grade math group. I talked with the teacher for that class, I talked with their parents, I talked with the students, I talked with their 3rd grade teacher, and I talked with the elementary and middle school principals... "Here's the evidence. This is what we think should be done for these students." Everyone was on board (thanks in part to students who came before these two who have previously proven outlier kids can totally do this!) and last Thursday these two now 4th grade boys came from their school to the middle school for math class.

I had talked with the boys the day before about some of what to expect. They were nervous and excited. I reassured them that it was all about finding the right fit, and while I believed we had found the math class that would be the right fit for them, it could easily be undone if it wasn't the right fit. I answered their questions. They shared their excitement and concerns. I left them with a pat on the back for being willing to dive in and give it a try. The next day, I met them at the middle school as they arrived (so they had a friendly, familiar face greeting them), introduced them to the principal and secretaries (they had previously met the teacher), and chatted with their moms.

The teacher for the class (our middle school math intervention specialist... her job is to focus on securing the best services for our math outliers on both ends of the spectrum) came in and said, "Well, 27 students qualified for this class. We'll be a little crowded in this smaller room, but I'm not going to turn away a kid who needs it."

I beamed :o)

And then later she told me what she said to all the students soon after class started. She said she had overheard some of the 5th graders making comments as they entered the room about "what are 4th graders doing here?" (I had warned the boys that this might happen and told them the novelty of their presence would wear off after a week or two and to just shrug off those comments matter-of-factly in the meantime.) The teacher said she told the whole class, "They are exactly the same as you mathematically. This is where they need to be, just as this is where you need to be. End of story." And it was.

I beamed again :o)

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