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Student Success: Defined by Data

Monday, June 23, 2014 -- Stephanie Abbott

Dr. Monica Hayes found herself looking at reports and feeling confused. What she was seeing in the data didn’t necessarily reflect what she was observing during her interaction with students. Dr. Hayes is the instructor/coordinator for an Intensive English Program at a university in the southeastern United States. International students come to study in a variety of fields like engineering and education. The program’s goal is to enhance the students’ ability to succeed in academic classes at an American university. Dr. Hayes introduced a software program, Edmentum’s ESL ReadingSmart, to provide outside-of-class activities in English for the students and to provide them opportunities for self-paced learning. The students have six hours of class time each day and are encouraged to make use of ESL ReadingSmart during the evening hours. The Edmentum software provides a placement test which determines the appropriate level of activities for each student. At the end of the term, data are reviewed, and Dr. Hayes makes a determination, in conjunction with her colleagues, as to each student’s readiness for credit-bearing academic coursework.

That’s when the confusion arose: student skills in class didn’t necessarily match the scores in ESL ReadingSmart. Learning a new software program is often wrought with challenges, one being analyzing data. Puzzled, Dr. Hayes reached out for help. That’s how I got involved. Dr. Hayes and I spent almost two hours going through reports and the student learning path and then having a discussion on student activities beyond the software. What did I learn from our conversation? I can sum it up in three statements.

One: Data are only one measure of success.

Just because a student gets 100% on the ESL ReadingSmart activity doesn’t mean that the student has reached competency. Language usage goes beyond reading. Listening with enough understanding to reply with an appropriate response is crucial to success in a college classroom. So, for these international students, the ability to respond to a request or question from Dr. Hayes or her assistants is an even more significant indicator of classroom readiness than a score on a report.

Two: A teacher is the definitive decision maker. 

Dr. Hayes understands that personality traits like perseverance, work ethic, and determination should be included in her evaluation of student readiness for credit-bearing classes.

For instance, one student (who wasn’t the best student) actually showed the most significant improvement of 1100 on the Lexile® scale. Why? How? The answer is simple: dedication and persistent, conscientious work—period. Dr. Hayes knew that the student would be successful because he was determined to be so. Conversely, another student was at risk of being sent home because she would not apply herself consistently in classroom activities and she did not initially avail herself of the ESL ReadingSmart program.

Three: There isn’t any technological innovation that will ever replace a human teacher.

Technology reduces time on tedious tasks by automatically scoring student work and developing data in a timely manner. That being said, so much of the art of teaching stems from the human mind and spirit. It takes intuition, keen observation skills, and well, heart to be an effective teacher. Dr. Hayes knew instinctively what needed to happen—instincts groomed by years of experience and dedication.

Dr. Hayes will continue to fine-tune all of the curricular offerings for the Intensive English Program, developing a balance between intensive classroom activities and self-paced work with a software program. It is important to recognize the importance of data but more important to appreciate the skill sets needed for teachers to analyze the data.

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