The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's something in the water

"This year's 5th-grade class is one of the best in years."

"Wait til you get these 8th-graders, they are something else."

Teachers trade these comments, and there are plenty of opinions over whether we should engage in this kind of talk. Having preconceived notions can be bad, or just part of good preparation. But is there any truth to these trends? Can terrific or terrible students really be clustered by age? Are students like wine -- there are years to savor and years to put on the bargain rack?

Certainly each group of students is different. My third year of teaching was filled with some of the most caring students I've ever encountered. They weren't geniuses, but the fact that they cared and tried their best meant they earned some of the highest scores I've ever seen. My eighth year teaching was filled with apathetic students who felt entitled to everything -- even the stuff on my desk.

Maybe they got a bad teacher in 3rd grade, maybe our impression is shaded by one or two students, maybe these are just the natural deviations from the norm.

Data! Average PSAT scores over the last 6 years are fairly consistent. Changes are usually less than a percentage point. Well, let's look more locally. Maybe my batch of geniuses are balanced by a batch of troublemakers in Denver.

I looked up TAKS data from my alma mater for the last five years. There certainly are big swings from one year to the next. As much as 18 percentage points. You can even track one class as they move from one grade to the next, consistently performing above (or below) the average.

So while I have no idea what causes these spikes in the data, at least when we get a group of headaches we can comfort ourselves that next year is different.

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