Getting struggling students to read requires both data and compassion

Too many teachers simply move students along to be kind. Can the impartiality of data help?

When I became an administrator back in 2008, I realized there were too many students flying under the radar and not reading at their grade level. If there’s one thing I know as an educator, now a superintendent, it’s that reading level defines success—period. Research shows that if a student reads on grade level, his or her likelihood of being successful dramatically increases.

Early in my educational career, I learned first-hand the impact of using student achievement data to guide my instruction, but assessment results don’t tell the whole story of a student. As part of my mission to see that no student falls through the cracks, all are greater than average, and everyone graduates knowing how to read, I developed an idea called “Truthful Kindness and Necessary Action” to help me balance objective reporting and empathy for students.

The ‘compassionate rescue’ is not enough

In my district, we talk a lot about being kind to students. While my teachers are extremely kind, there are situations where students are what I call “compassionately rescued” from their struggles. In other words, teachers may be allowing struggling students to slide through, or rescue them from the necessary struggle of having to master key skills, when they haven’t shown mastery.

Many times I find this is done out of love for the students. As a teacher, I hated to watch a student struggle to read or fail academic assessments. To save students from falling behind the rest of the class or being singled out, many teachers move them forward with the expectation that they’ll catch on. Although these teachers believe they are being kind to the student at the time, this has a major impact on each student’s long-term educational development.

Next page: How data guides students to become successful

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