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Who didn’t turn in their essay? I can guess.

 Yesterday, my advisees turned in their post-graduation plans, one piece of their senior portfolio. They’d worked on these essays with another teacher for the last week. They were focused and did excellent work.

After I received the essays, I counted them, hoping that this time, I’d get a 100 percent turn-in rate.

(I don’t remember the last time all my advisees turned in an assignment on time. Last year, the typical on-time turn-in rate hovered around 50 percent, which devastated me. I’m not exactly sure how to conduct a class that way.)

The count this time? I got 14 out of 18, or 78 percent. Not bad, but not good.

Then I decided to see if I could identify the four students who didn’t turn in their essays without looking at the stack. How predictable is this data? I wrote down four names, then checked, then didn’t know how to feel when I found out I was 100 percent correct.

Is it a good thing that I could make this prediction? Does it mean that I know which students are struggling? Or is the opposite true — that the achievement gap is so strong that struggling students have no chance? What’s my role as a teacher if I always get the same result?

As a next step, I asked our counselor to see if she could also name the four students who hadn’t completed the essay. Even though she has limited contact with my advisees, she identified three out of four correctly.

What does this tell me? As a school, we know our students well and can identify which students are struggling. Unfortunately, if we can make these kinds of predictions, that means we’re not intervening effectively enough. We’re not addressing the achievement gap. We’re seeing our students, seeing the cracks, and letting them fall through.

And if that’s true, what exactly am I doing here? What kind of influence am I having as a teacher? 


  1. Dave Keller

    I have not read a clearer description of the problem. No apologies, just the facts. Do I sense a bit of hyperbole?

    I’m going to guess that there are more than 4 students in your advisory that in any other setting would be predictable, too. If you are playing the numbers game then your comments don’t tell the whole story. For argument’s sake lets say there are 8 of 18 that are predictable. Given those numbers you are batting 500 rather than 1000 (and nobody bats 1000). Not to make excuses – I’m just saying…

    • Mark Isero

      You’re right, Dave: I’m not always right. But it’s scary how predictable achievement is. I wish there were more stories of struggling students who turn things around with good teaching and hard work.

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