Making Good Instructional Decisions

With all of the changes in NYS with teacher and principal accountability, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our Intervention Groups in our Elementary School. In an effort to better meet the needs of all of our students, our Admin team determined last year that teachers on grade level should work together with the remedial teachers to form fluid ability groups. What’s it look like? Three grade level teachers work together with one or two remedial teachers to use the iReady diagnostic data to group all of that grade level’s students for intervention time in Math and ELA, by ability. We’ve called it fluid ability grouping because we want to acknowledge that the groups can change as student learning and progress are monitored throughout the year.

That’s the idea we started with last year. How did we get to that?  We identified the problem as “differentiation in our instruction isn’t consistent, it’s very hard to do well, and our results show that we’re not doing enough for our mid to top students”. We talked to teachers, we listened and we made a decision to try to fix the problem—teachers will work together on grade level to analyze data and determine ability groups for Intervention. Teachers will be able to teach with focus to a smaller, similar group. We will be able to better focus on the needs of all of our students. We directed teachers to do this last year and then again this year.

But what really happens when we give a directive like this one? Some teachers listen and take to heart everything that we’ve asked, implementing the “solution”. Some teachers comply with the request, but don’t really make the changes necessary to the instruction to meet the unique needs of the students assigned to them for intervention. And a few may believe more in what they’ve always done than in the initiative being implemented building wide.  Administrators assume what they asked teachers to do is what’s actually happening—with monitoring— BUT it ends up looking differently throughout the building when what we were aiming for is CONSISTENCY  and a way to raise expectations for every child. All teachers are working hard, but in very different ways with varying results.

Here’s what I wish could happen. We identify the same problem—“we aren’t adequately differentiating instruction in our classrooms. Our instruction is largely to the middle of the group, we need higher expectations for all students and we’ve got to do more for our kids at the top.” Teachers work together to determine what works best for their situation, including an analysis of those teaching strategies used last year that got us the greatest student gains. One grade level may determine that they’re going to share the students as indicated in the solution above while another grade level may determine that each teacher can adequately differentiate within the classroom and will do so through targeted centers.  Another grade level may have a blended approach or come up with something completely different that we haven’t even thought of yet.

And most important of all from my perspective? We’re giving iReady as an interim assessment so that we can continually assess our own practices and use data to make informed instructional decisions so let’s not implement anything without constant monitoring and consideration of what’s working best.

With the accountability measures in place this year for every RCS teacher—NYS composite scores—we have to consider what each teacher determines will work best for his or her own students, don’t we? If I’m the classroom teacher and each of my student scores are tied directly to me and my score–I need a BIG SAY in how I’m teaching them for ELA and Math–both regular instruction and in intervention. It’s my responsibility and my composite score that’s on the line. If I have a better idea about what the 20-25 students in my class need and how I can deliver it to them, then I’ve got to speak up and make that happen.  I have to ask questions and suggest solutions—IF I can show a way that will accomplish more for each child.

To excel and be the professionals that we’re expected to be, in the effective to highly effective ranges,   we have to continually analyze and challenge our own thinking. And we have more data than ever before on which to base our instructional decisions—but every teacher has to be self assessing, talking to colleagues, thinking about what works and what works better so that we can all improve, every day.

We’re talking about teacher ownership of the responsibility for the new accountability measures and about equity for students. I’m struggling to balance a district perspective which throws a one size fits all solution at the problem to gain equity for all kids with an individual teacher’s perspective that may or may not own the complexities of teaching to every student. I truly don’t know how to reconcile those two ideas but I’m sure that individualizing the solution by team or teacher after careful consideration while maintaining the minimal expectation of ability grouping is the answer.

Here’s what I’m most bothered by in the current solution. We’re asking teachers to better differentiate and consider the needs of each individual student and then we’re implementing a single plan for all teachers. Shouldn’t we be differentiating the solution for each teacher too? I want to expect more of every teacher just as we’re asking you to expect more of every student. If you’ve got a better way of doing things, we want to hear about it. And it needs to be for all of the RIGHT reasons, not just because you want to do things the way you’ve always done them. Because frankly, we can’t afford to do that with the new accountability measures. And from my perspective, that’s a good thing that should bring about equity for all students. NOTHING is more important in the education of our children than the teacher who stands in that classroom every day. Please bring your thoughtful analysis, an open mind and your best ideas to your data team meetings this month.  And admin team, stay the course with high expectations for every teacher in the district and for yourself. 


  1. Megan–thank you! I’m not familiar with the Challenge 24 tournament but am interested in hearing more. It sounds like you may be directly involved. If so, will you consider sending me more information at We are working hard to offer more opportunities in enrichment and this sounds like a strong possibility. OR, please let me know where to go for more information.

  2. Way to stay on-top of challenging your staff to be a part of the solution. As a teacher, I love to see when administration actually cares what I think.
    Do you have an enrichment program in your school for the top achievers? Maybe working with some project-based learning in addition to the foundational skills practice that is so important in mathematics? It would be a different challenge for the top achievers, but utilizes the same skills that they need to be practicing any way.
    I’m also going to shamelessly plug the Challenge 24 tournament that takes place at St. Bonaventure every year. It’s for grades 3-7 and requires great mental math skills. It takes place in the Spring every year, and it’s such a great time seeing kids so excited about math! If your school isn’t involved, they should consider getting into it.

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