Why Words are Greater Than Numbers

Last Thursday I left school extremely disappointed. And discouraged. And crabby. And…well…you get the idea.

Last Thursday was…STAR testing. At the risk of boring you, let me tell you a little bit about STAR testing.

According to its technical manual, the purpose of STAR is to progress monitor students’ skills. And up until last Thursday, that’s precisely how I utilized it. In September, I administered the test and reaped tons of knowledge regarding my students’ reading strengths and weaknesses. I knew who needed intervention. I could identify students who were proficient. I knew who would benefit from enrichment. I could even pinpoint specific skills and sub-skills students needed remediation or enrichment in.

How incredible is that?!

And that’s even how I used STAR in January. Only this time, as a bonus, I was able to ascertain student growth. I knew who was on track to achieve proficiency, who was responding to interventions, and, more importantly, who was not responding to interventions.

I was feeling pretty good in January. Pretty gall darn good.

But then Thursday came. And the results were not at all what I wanted or even expected. I poured over the data. I asked myself what I did wrong. I asked myself what I could have done better.

Now keep in mind, this is not my first rodeo; I fully understand the drawbacks and limitations of any standardized test. I understand standardized tests are not real world and may not even remotely reflect a student’s true ability to succeed in life.

I knew the test’s reliability was only around 80%. I knew all of this, yet I struggled to put the results in perspective.

And then Tuesday happened.

On Tuesday I administered a different type of assessment. (You’re probably thinking those lucky kids! Two assessments within a week! Welcome to my world.) On Tuesday, students were required to write narratives. Truth be told, I wasn’t excited about the prospect. Narrative writing was a unit studied at the beginning of the school year.

At the beginning of the year, narratives are the cat’s meow! I love narrative writing at the beginning of the year–what a great way to get to know students.

But now keep in mind, the beginning of the year was a long time ago. A long time ago as in ‘I was more than a little doubtful that they would be able to demonstrate any growth in a genre we had not revisited’ time ago.

And selfishly, another assessment meant I would have over 100 essays to correct, utilizing a rubric with 9 criteria. That’s a lot of work considering the results would not be used to drive my instruction, nor be entered into the grade book. (Instead, each individual criteria would need to be entered into eduCLIMBR, a program to collect student data. For future analysis I assume.)

Needless to say, the narrative had a lot going against it.

Yet as I sit here today, I couldn’t be more appreciative of those narrative assessments.

Every narrative once again allowed me to glimpse into the (at times) very personal lives of my students.

I was instantly reminded of the power of the written word.

I laughed. I smiled. I groaned. I may have even rolled my eyes.

And I cried.

I cried for the student who ended her narrative with these words:

I know that the rain on those days were from my daddy’s tears from heaven, or hell. Wherever he had gone. 

I cried for the student who began her narrative with this:

I’ve had depression for a while actually…

And ended it with this:

I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t change to the trashy kid that I am now…I wonder what life would be like if I wasn’t such a follower all the time… I wonder what it would be like if my life didn’t change.

And then, I understood.

We allow numbers to define us in so many ways…

But numbers will never tell the whole story.

The score on an assessment will never reveal what is going on in a student’s life.

A Teacher Quality Rating may not immediately reveal impact on a student’s life.

A salary is not indicative of dedication.

The ‘minute miles’ on a Garmin does not tell of obstacles overcome.

The number of ‘likes’ received does not determine self worth.

A GPA does not determine potential.

Strength is not determined by pounds lifted or squatted.

Your weight does not reveal your past journey.

Numbers limit us; words reveal who we are.



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