Wake County teachers challenged on their beliefs about students

Half the teachers who took part in a recent survey at 28 Wake County schools say they’re not sure all their students can perform at grade level.

And that’s raising questions including whether teachers’ unconscious beliefs – such as low expectations about some students – are hurting attempts to raise achievement levels.

School administrators presented Monday the results of a survey on teacher beliefs at 28 schools, including a response that half the educators there didn’t think all their students could reach grade-level benchmarks even if they had sufficient support.

Leaders at those schools said they have been using the survey results to have difficult conversations with teachers about how to serve students better.

“If you’ve been to Garner recently, I think you can see a lot of changes with the way teachers are thinking,” said Blair Pruette, the intervention coordinator of Garner High School. “And it all came directly back to breaking out those beliefs, unpacking them in a way where they were comfortable with saying, ‘We do believe this, but it doesn’t show. How can we address it?’”

However, school board member Jim Martin questioned the wording of the questions, saying teachers could honestly believe not all of their students could reach grade level. He said the questions, intentionally or not, appear to be phrased in a way to blame the teachers for lacking belief that their students can do well.

“This puts it all on top of the teacher,” Martin said. “I’m frustrated with what seems to be being done with this belief survey in the real context of the classroom, the complexities of learning where the teacher has responsibility, the student has responsibility.”

School board Chairman Tom Benton defended saying “all students” in the question. Citing his days as a principal, Benton said that dropping the use of the word “all” gave permission to give up on kids.

Wake will be training teachers at all 171 schools in a program called the Multi-tiered System of Supports, or MTSS. The system lists the types of support that students will receive.

Before the first group of 28 schools began MTSS training this school year, their teachers were surveyed on their beliefs. Staff will be surveyed again to see if their beliefs have changed over time.

Survey respondents were asked 31 questions. Results include:

▪ Ninety-seven percent agree or strongly agree that general-education classroom teachers should use more differentiated and flexible instructional practices to address the needs of a more diverse student body.

▪ Eighty percent agree or strongly agree that they recognize the unsolicited privileges they might enjoy because of their title, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability or ethnicity.

But the result that drew much discussion Monday was the low percentage of teachers who agreed that all students could perform at grade level.

Amy Mattingly, the MTSS coach at Fuquay-Varina Elementary School, said the survey caused teachers to ask what they could do change the results. One step, she said, was for teachers to ask for more training in how they could teach all students.

“I was happy that they were at least thinking about all students because what we’re supposed to do at a school is think about all of them, not just some of them,” Mattingly said.

But Martin said that while members hear at board meetings how wonderful these programs are, the district should consider how teachers feel about having more work being placed on them.

“There is also a lot of frustration in the classroom and we need to hear that.” Martin said. “We need to look at what these things we are doing are feeling like in the classroom.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui