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Teacher Thoughts: Defining Progress

After reading the first chapter of Adolescent Literacy by Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, and Linda Rief, I have been awakened to the flaws in today’s educational philosophies. The most recent and current educational reforms have been centered on measuring progress through standardized testing. The definition of progress in education, however, varies tremendously from most other definitions of progress in life. 

While reading Derek’s story, a story of a child who made a 160 point advancement on a standardized test, but missed the “standard” mark by 20 points, and therefore not making “adequate yearly progress”, I was reminded of my ninth grade English teacher’s philosophy on the grading scale. He pointed out that our grading scale “rewards those who are naturally smart” and “fails to recognize the progress of those who were not previously skilled in that subject.” I realized that, for me, this was absolutely true. I have always been congratulated for my high grades (in fact, I was salutatorian of my class), but, in reality, I did not have to put any extra effort into making straight As. I noticed that some of my classmates, however, would start the semester with Ds or even Fs, and they were able to bring those grades up to Cs or Bs by the end. Why should I be rewarded for my natural talents while others are frowned upon even though they worked twice as hard as I did?

Beers asks, “What if school were a place for figuring out, where trying mattered at least as much as adequate progress, where learning proceeded at each student’s level and pace instead of mandated levels?” I agree that there is a flawed definition of progress in education. When basketball players first practice free-throws, they are not expected to make 100% or even 50% right away. They are congratulated and encouraged when their percentages rise each day, even if they make only one extra free-throw than the day before. Runners are not expected to run ten miles on the first day they try, or even the next week, or month. They make daily progress. Even when employees begin a new job, they are not expected to know all of the skills right away. They get pay raises based on their progress and the time and effort they put into the job. Yet, in school, students are not congratulated for making progress, for learning new skills, for putting time into their work, for trying even when they are not sure. They are only rewarded when they reach the goal, and it doesn’t matter if they were capable on the first try, or if they have worked months to reach the “standard” mark. Students are expected to meet a mark, but they are not often encouraged along the way.

To me, progress, real progress, is the most important part of education, and I hope to create a system in which I can measure my students’ progress throughout the semester and congratulate them for their efforts, no matter what their “grade”, “score”, or “standard” may be.


Find the book here: http://amzn.to/2zcvjOp


Share your thoughts below! How can we intentionally encourage students as the make progress, even if their grades are not reflective of their hard work?


Author: Rachel

Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!

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  • Reply
    Shannon Dewease
    November 23, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Yes! Great article! I wish more educators thought as you do! Sad truth is a lot of educators feel the same way but are bound by state and local regulations. We try to teach our children to be creative, do your best, ask questions. Then send them to school and they are told to be quiet, sit still, and memorize these facts. An educational reform will not improve the system until the system reflects on the definition of success and awards hard work. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Nice work on progress in terms of one ‘s skill and talent. When you put forth effort you get reward and i belief its meaningful work.

  • Reply
    November 23, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    This is just great!! I really wish I had had a teacher growing up who didn’t make it all about the high marks immediately. I was never the worst in my class, but never the best. I never “outshown” anyone, but I did well enough that I wasn’t worth any extra time and school was just never very enjoyable. 🙁

  • Reply
    November 23, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    I wish teachers were given more freedom to teach! I loved this article from a teachers perspective. As a parent to a kid who just doesn’t love school but does try hard I have always felt like the standardized testing system was somehow failing him. It’s so refreshing to hear from a teacher that his progress is still something to celebrate even if testing went badly. Thank you for your words!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    I try to email my students’ parents when they show progress, even if their grade isn’t “good”. I have so many students discouraged because they might have a C, but I always point out to them how they had a D or an F and were able to bring it up.

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