Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: How Do You Interpret That Number?
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Slice of Life: How Do You Interpret That Number?


It’s a bummer it is going to rain this weekend.

 Oh, I thought it was going to be nice. 

No, I checked this morning and it is going to rain.

That’s weird – I checked too and it said it is going to be nice.


My friend and I have had this exchange – substitute snow, sleet, wind – an endless number of times over the years.  We just figured we each looked at different apps or listened to different stations to explain the discrepancies in our forecast predictions.  On this day, however, we each had our phones with us.

When we showed each other the evidence for our prediction, we were surprised to discover we were both looking at the same exact forecast.


How do you see that as rain?

How do you see that as nice?

Well, I only predict rain if it says an 80% 100% chance.

Oh, I predict rain if says a 50 or 60% chance.


For years, we thought we had different sources of information only to find out that it was our interpretation of the data that was different.  It is not that I was looking at the bright side or that my friend was a pessimist – we simply analyze and interpret the numbers differently.  We have different cut-offs for our analysis.

We find this happens in schools all the time.  There are many assessments, that while valid and reliable, require the interpretation and judgement of the teacher.  We have to rank a student’s comprehension based on an oral conversation or score a student’s writing.  These types of assessments do provide rubrics and exemplars, but each teacher still has to make a judgement for each student. Do we all look for the same qualities in a comprehension conversation?  Do we expect more at different times of the year?  How do we ensure that we all have the same vision in mind for a 3?  How do we standardize these open ended assessments?

The world of assessment tells us we need inter-rater reliability to ensure consistency.  The answer is finding time to co-administer and co-score assessments with colleagues.  Many schools dedicate professional development time to learning how to administer a new assessment.  There are often a few sessions or after school workshops to model how to administer and score the new assessment.  Too often the professional learning stops there and it is not enough.  Each year teachers need time to review, reflect and discuss the assessments they are using in the district.  Grade level teams should have time to assess, score and analyze assessments together.  We find the “why” behind the score is often more important than the score itself.  We need to have conversations about the quality of student responses and the craft of student writing.  These conversations lead us to determining instructional goals and practices to meet the needs of the students we are assessing.

It is important that one teacher’s sunny day is the same as another teacher’s sunny day.  When we share our perspectives with each other we not only ensure consistency in our evaluation, we learn from each other and develop our expertise as teachers of reading and writing.  These conversations ensure we are assessing to understand our students and to use the information to help them grow as readers and writers.

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    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 11:24h, 29 November Reply

    I have found that this is especially true when it comes to assessing writing. Three teachers can assess the same piece and come up with three entirely different scores. Sitting together and having that purposeful conversation about the “why” behind our thinking is so important, but rarely happens due to time. It is a shame that districts don’t place more of an emphasis on this part of the assessment piece.

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    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 13:15h, 29 November Reply

    Time has become our new four letter word – there is never enough of it to do all we need to do and so often we struggle to make the time for these very important exercises. I loved your example of the weather forecast. It made the point of looking and discussing numbers even more real!

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    Gina Ballesteros
    Posted at 14:33h, 29 November Reply

    As the ESL specialist, I truly believe in co-assessment. I am very fortunate to be in a school where calibration meetings are common and where co-teachers sit together to score common assessments. Even though it is part of our culture and an expectation to collaborate, sometimes we find ourselves negotiating with each other, and with the rest of the teachers in our grade level team. Our interpretations about students’ performance seem to vary depending on our own perceptions and different views. I agree with you, time is a constraint, we try to keep up with these practices and more things are added to our plates, so it is hard to sustain these practices unless we meet at a coffee shop on a Saturday morning.

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 16:17h, 29 November Reply

    Fun to read about your analogy and the differing interpretations that need continuing study and confirmation, too. At my school, we did not do any of these kinds of tests but relied on formative assessments only, and lots of talk about students from all the teachers who taught them. Conversations and different perspectives form pictures that help find best approaches. Thanks!

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    Posted at 20:20h, 29 November Reply

    Yes, we need to look through many lenses to really see our kids, and the progress they are making. Conversations, as Linda points out, are invaluable.

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    Julie Johnson
    Posted at 00:55h, 30 November Reply

    Oh, how I love this! It’s so important for teachers to have these conversations so that we are all on the same page. I am going to share this with the teachers in my building. Thanks!

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    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 01:17h, 30 November Reply

    We’ve done a lot of work in our district to calibrate expectations and scoring. It’s hard, though, and far from a perfect science! I love your weather analogy–yes, we can all interpret the same data in different ways, for sure!

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    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 03:30h, 30 November Reply

    Oh, how I love this analogy, and will be borrowing it while giving credit to you both!! I am working hard at thinking how to find the pockets of time so necessary to do this calibration and analysis of assessments.

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