SOLC 2014: Most Likely to Improve


Bowling alleys have a culture all their own. The sound of balls hurtling down the polished alleys, the crashing of the pins. The funny shoes, the smell of fries. For some people, bowling is serious business. Those in leagues have handicaps and custom-made balls. For many, though, bowling is a fun night out with friends, maybe once or twice a year, with nothing really at stake. I am this kind of bowler.

By David Castillo Dominici,
By David Castillo Dominici,

Friday afternoon was our annual staff “Bowling Tournament of Champions.” Teachers and other staff members sign up and teams are assembled at random. Each team comes up with a silly name and matching silly attire. I love these afternoons because it gives us a chance to chat with colleagues we don’t often see. We’re outside of school, and for the most part, school stays out of the conversations. Everyone cheers each other on, no matter which team they’re on, although sometimes a hidden competitive streak reveals itself. There are prizes for the team with the most spirit, the best costumes, and, of course, the champions. It’s all good fun.

Until it isn’t

I know I’m not great a great bowler, but I usually can hold my own at these tournaments. But Friday wasn’t my day. I’d been up much too late the night before, and I didn’t sit down for lunch until after two o’clock. Add this to the fact that I bowl once a year and you get this: a trophy for  “Most Likely to Improve.” (Code for: lowest score) The smiley face sticker on the trophy didn’t help.


Now I’m not really that upset about all this. I had a good time. But it made me think about the chances of doing well in any kind of activity that you do only once a year.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this, but don’t misunderstand. I am not, in any way, saying that with more test preparation kids would do better on standardized tests. In fact, I think exactly the opposite is true.

Diane Ravitch pointed out, in her keynote address at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion yesterday, that the tests our children are taking as part of the PARCC and SBAC pilots “have no diagnostic value” and serve only to give “numbers to students.” What does this have to do with ensuring that a child is “college and career ready,” the stated goal of the current education reform movement? How does that help a teacher know her students and understand how to help them learn and grow?

If the Department of Education and the reformers working so hard to destroy public education truly cared about children and were interested in ensuring that every child reached his or her full potential, they would do everything in their power to help teachers enrich instruction. They would do everything in their power to ensure that teachers have time to, in Stephanie Harvey’s words, “teach kids to think so they can acquire and use knowledge” and “solve problems on their own.” They would do everything in their power to lower the rate of childhood poverty, the highest in the developed world.

If the reformers in power took only these steps, then would be on our way to giving all our children the education they deserve. Then we really would be the “Most Likely to Improve.”

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

10 thoughts on “SOLC 2014: Most Likely to Improve

  1. Catherine,
    Thank you for drawing this connection and mentioning the quotes from the speakers you heard. I appreciate what you’re trying to call attention to here. Did the speakers give any advice on how to get the ball rolling down the alley of correction?


  2. Glad you made this connection, Catherine, although I think I’d be happy with that smiley face trophy for any sporting event these days. Diane’s speech hit home hard – it’s testing season, after all. But, we must fight back – she makes the case for that.


  3. Glad you were there to hear these powerful speakers. It seems we need to find a way to demonstrate learning and growth to satisfy the powers that be AND “teach kids to think so they can acquire and use knowledge” and “solve problems on their own.” If we do just do the latter, what would the one time test reflect?


  4. I love the analogy, Catherine, and support you all the way. Because all we do at my school is teach kids to think so they can acquire and use knowledge… I can’t argue with any of it. I am alarmed at the label (number) given to children that appears to be “it”, & hope that most teachers are able to ignore it. Thanks as always for a thoughtful post!


  5. Who knew that your most likely to improve bowling trophy could spin into a testing analogy. Next year, make sure you pack some Wheaties for lunch! Seriously, you made that connection really well. I think that Stephanie Harvey’s quote is one of the most powerful ones that I’ve seen and Diane Ravitch is an amazing leader. It is awful to imagine the amount of money and time that we have spent as an entire nation to administer these tests. That same money would have gone a long way at getting some of the children what would really help them.


  6. Statistically, schools that receive lower school grades are more apt to improve, as well. In my state, you have to gamble on lowest students’ passing the test (including learning disabled), your school’s grade, your district’s grade and a mysterious growth model that tells you that even when kids passed the test, they still did not learn enough. Good luck, teachers, right?!?


  7. Our school is field testing SBAC this year. It saddens me to think of the time and money that could be spent so much more wisely. Thanks for this thought provoking post and for the quotes.


  8. How lucky your students are to have you as a teacher. I just don’t know if I could do it. I teach overseas and anytime I hear about standardized testing I CRINGE. I love our IB curriculum and I just don’t want to leave it.


  9. Love the turn from bowling to testing… I remind myself that the test is one snapshot in the album I keep of the student’s success and learning. One picture hardly captures a piece of the story.


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