Class Sessions, Instructional Days, and a Conversation I Never Thought I'd Have at my School

Last week was the tail end of SOL (Standards of Learning) testing for 1st semester. We're on a 4-block set-up, so some classes are finished after 1 semester, and the students take their state End of Course multiple choice assessment. If you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that my Algebra 2 class was one of these semester-long courses, and that the kids took their SOL test last week. None of them passed on the first go-round, but 3 were in what the state calls the "bubble". A score of 400 is required for passing, but the students who score between 375 and 399 are permitted an expedited retake...they are the "bubble". Those three students took the test (different form) again on Friday morning and scores came yesterday. One student improved by 52 points! Well into the passing range. The other two both improved, but not enough to cross over that 400 benchmark. I was pleased with their scores because with many students in the retake bubble, their 2nd score is lower than their first...the tests are often much more difficult than the first test.

Anyway, enough background/babble about test scores. That's not the whole purpose of this post. Last week my principal sent a request to the high school teachers. He said that he was looking at lesson plans recently and noticed that some teachers had noted class cancelled for a variety of reasons (IEP meetings, early dismissals for sports away games, clubs, etc). He was curious to know how widespread the class cancellations have been this term, so he asked us to total (for each class): class sessions, instructional days (with the teacher present...not a sub), instructional homegoing days (we have 1/2 days with students on homegoing days...they get on buses at noon on Fridays/Thursdays), and then write a narrative about whether or not we feel there was enough time in the schedule to cover the pace of the class.

The semester is supposed to have 90 days. Eighteen of those are "homegoing" days. We had 3 snow days, and I was out for a few days for various reasons. When the calculations were finished,*  one class had only met 44 times due to student illness/absences. Another class had only met 68 times, with 64 instructional days! To top it all off, the class with 64 instructional days is one of the fastest paced math classes we offer: Algebra 2. The students struggle in that class without missing 1/3 of instructional days because there is so much information to cover and a strong reliance on what you remember from Algebra 1. When I saw the numbers, I didn't feel so bad about the students not passing the state test, but I was still sad that they missed out. Think of how much better it might have been...

Well, Friday afternoon we had a meeting to clarify the intentions behind the principal's request, and to talk about some data. I was one of the few that had already turned their stats in, so my data was brought up. The conversation that I never expected to have was about test scores. I know public schools have dialogue all the time about needing to raise test scores and some teachers are worried for their job if the students don't perform well. I also know that most public schools expect 90% of their students to pass the Alg1 SOL (or any...) on the first try. We don't have those expectations. First of all, I don't even have 10 kids in my class...so it's impossible for me to have a 90% pass rate. Secondly, they don't all have the foundation in reading or math to do well. I expect them to work hard and try their best, but I know that some kids just won't pass the first time. That's okay.

What I didn't expect was to be told the data about our pass rates...We then discussed the time data...powers that be are putting two and two together, thinking that one is the direct result of another and are now looking for solutions. What can we do so that kids don't miss so much class? Move clubs to after school? What about day students? Cancel away games? Students will leave. Cancel sports/clubs entirely? Students will leave. We were not being accused of not teaching, but we were being asked for solutions. No one has any. Administration is afraid that if kids are not passing tests they, their parents, or their local districts won't want to send them to our school anymore.

There's more to our school than getting kids to pass tests.

*Secretly I loved doing this...I was even doing it before he asked, because I knew one of my classes had lost a lot of time...I guess I like data


  1. While I agree with your conclusion that there's more to school than tests - instructional time is just about the most important thing for success in Algebra 2. Do you really have kids pulled out of class for club meetings? It sounds like your schedule needs to be reworked so that academic classes are rarely interrupted, without losing the opportunities for extracurriculars that are also important. Isn't that the sort of thing administrators go to school for? I don't think it should fall on teachers to solve this problem.

  2. @Kate
    Yes, we do have kids pulled (or ourselves pulled) from classes 2 Fridays/month for clubs. Granted, Fridays are halfdays and not all kids are involved in all clubs, but they have bee run this way so both residential and day students can participate. Reworking the schedule has been a major discussion topic of late...as well as who should solve this problem. Thanks for the comment.