Every Piece Fits Perfectly by Elizabeth Rushton

Elizabeth Rusthon is an instructional specialist for the Humbolt School District in Prescott, Arizona. In that role she supports all teachers in their daily planning and assessments. She also supports data dialogues and data interpretation.

Every Piece Fits Perfectly
I may be a little late to the game but I have had the thought that “No Child Left Behind” has left many children behind. Before this initiative I truly thought of my class as my class. My kiddos were all different shapes, sizes, and colors but they all fit perfectly in my room and played an important role. They were pieces to the puzzle (in fact that was my beginning of the year bulletin board, each student decorated their own puzzle piece and then we put it together on the bulletin board), Legos in the building, crayons in the box, cars in the matchbox carrier, clothes in the Barbie case, OK I’m stretching but you get the picture.

Rewind to 2005, the year AIMS took a hulk-like hold on my classroom and my instructional practices. Kiddos were no longer a piece who fit into one puzzle but were now pieces that were labeled as falls far below, approaches, meets, and exceed the standards. AIMS became an accusatory arrow rather than a tool to measure standards. The students were rings in the target. They were all put into a bubble and that bubble never popped. I was now referring to kids as FFBers and meets & exceeds kids and the ever so common ‘bubble kids’, those on the bubble for moving up or down in a category. I used terms like ‘most bang for our buck,’ We have to ‘know how to play the game,’ and ‘it’s always a moving target.’

I felt set up.

Was this the easiest way for classrooms, schools, and district administrations to gage what they claim to be excellence? This took me out of instructor role and I now had a lens on each student. That should have been a good thing, right? Well, the lens just had numbers enlarged and all the other factors were blurry images in the background. I held on to the swinging magnifying lens for dear life and hoped that I had all the control to create a class that would 100% meet or exceed the test.

Sure, there was the growth component; however, its formulaic confusion is too muddled to design instructional practices and modifications that would lead to growth.

But, let’s focus on the growth part. Why was the growth component so difficult to calculate / tabulate / articulate? Traditionally, I am able to give a pre-assessment at the beginning of the year and then a post at the end of the year and quickly show evidence of growth. Using the grade appropriate AZ College and Career Readiness Standards as a form of pre and post assessments after one full school year of instruction with the same students seemed to be an aspect that was under my control.

Bring it back around…..I allowed AIMS to turn me into a data driven devil that labeled students and focused on one test that was set in April. But now, I announce that on this day, at the dawn of AZMerit assessment era, I will use my data to talk with teachers to validate the entire picture of each student, not just their test results. They come back to being equal parts in my classroom puzzle!


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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