In DPS each fall we have to declare two “Student Growth Objectives”. Our administrator reads them and if approved, and if the April exit tests show that we met our goal, we get money. The thinking at the district level is that this kind of financial incentive will cause our scores to go up. In my own case, once I submit my SGOs at the beginning of the year, they are forgotten.
Anyway, today my principal sent me an email challenging the level of difficulty of one of my objectives, the one for my level 1 French class. That objective was that 80% of my French 1 students who attended at least 85% of the time would score between 4 and 14 on the DPS Writing Rubric (4-6 is Novice Low; 7-10 is Novice Mid Low; 11-14 is Novice Mid High):
Here is what my principal said about it:
Was is your baseline data for SGO #1? I was also wondering if 4 score points is a suitable growth for one year of instruction.
Here is my response:
Hi Josefina thanks for the observations. My baseline for level 1 French is:
…100% of students enrolled in Period 8 French 1 scored at 0 on the World Language District Writing Test, having never studied the language before….
So, starting from zero, my goal is to get them to a level of minimally acceptable writing as explained below, which touches on your second question:
… I was also wondering if 4 score points is a suitable growth for one year of instruction….
The answer is yes and here’s why – we in DPS don’t expect or want big gains in writing from students in a first year class. We find that according to the research, the more a student listens and (especially) reads during the first year of instruction, the more gains they make in writing in levels 2 and esp. in level 3.
So strong gains in writing are not expected, certainly from Diana Noonan at the district level who constantly makes it clear to her new teachers in the district that we are to spend most of our instructional time in level 1 classes in DPS speaking to the students and esp. having them read.
So all the reading we do sets up the writing for later years and, in level 3 in particular we find exponential gains when we do it this way. We find that if we make the kids focus on writing too early (level 1), then valuable time that could have been spent on the input skills of listening and reading is wasted.
(Writing is an output skill and depends for its quality on a good foundation of lots and lots of time on the input skills of listening and reading). Most language teachers nationally make this mistake to the great detriment of their students. It’s like making a kid do downhill skiing before they have the basics – it shouldn’t be done.)
Actually we have a local example of this need to avoid writing too early. At Lincoln four or five years ago Annick Chen focused on writing in her (then) French classes because ALHS was particularly focused that year on a school wide basis on writing as a faculty. Her scores in writing went down that year, the year she focused on writing.
This is in keeping with the research of Stephen Krashen who has shown that if we want our kids to be better writers they should read more.
On top of that, we have the fact that many of the particular student population at ALHS have weaknesses in writing in their first language.
Those things taken together make me feel that it is justified to set a goal of 4 at the low end (14 at the high end) in writing on the exit exam in April for some of my students. I doubt that there will be many such scores, as historically my students in level 1 typically score in the Novice Mid ACTFL range (7-10) after one year of instruction even though I spend very little class time focusing on writing during the year.
Here is the DPS writing rubric, attached, and it can give you a look at just how a 4 is worded:
…use some simple words to provide basic communication….
…errors in grammar, word order, and word choice prevent communication….
…make a list of isolated words about prompt….
…minimally responds to prompt….
…use up to three clauses….
…use isolated or repetitive words….
I think those things (4-6 on the writing rubric) represent a reasonable goal, given the concerns expressed above.
With all respect, I would suggest that you take up the information about how we get better at writing at the lower levels (by listening and especially reading) with your ELA team. Of course that is not my area, but I make the suggestion anyway just in case you might consider it, because if you adopted the idea of less writing early on in your ELA program here at ALHS, or in the general ELA program across the district, you might be surprised at what might happen in writing over a full two to three year period.
Here is the DPS Writing Rubric: writing_rubric_2013-14