I’m upset about the word FIDELITY in education. This word has given me headaches for at least 2 years now, as I attend meeting after meeting, session after session, on how, if teachers would just use “the program” or “the strategy” or “the textbook” “with fidelity,” that students will be successful in school. Teachers are evaluated, schools are graded, and the one thing that is reported about education is if we could all just make this one change — fidelity — then we could all succeed in life. I looked up “fidelity in education.” Here’s what Google showed in the first pop-up screen (a Google definition of “fidelity in education”):

“Fidelity of implementation occurs when teachers use the instructional strategies and deliver the content of the curriculum(s) in the same way that they were designed to be used and delivered.” (Yep. It said, “curriculums.”) Does that ever happen? (A question for another time)

The second intriguing link (from the Center on Instruction’s RTI CTRL:http://www.rtictrl.org/files/Fidelity%20Checklist%20A.pdf showed a Fidelity Checklist — a checklist/worksheet that an observer can use to collect data on if a teacher is using curriculum “with fidelity.” The sheet includes Instruction/Presentation, such as “teacher and student materials ready,” “follows steps and wording in lessons,” “provides students many opportunities to respond,” and “completes all parts of teacher-directed lesson.” The checklist also has a category for General Observations of the Group, including “student engagement in lesson,” “student success at completing activities,” and “teacher familiarity with lesson formats and progression through activities.”

Well…

Oh, wait! There’s more! A third link at www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/evaluate/treatment-integrity-protocols says this about Fidelity Checklists:

“These protocols have been developed by a variety of sources (publishers, graduate students, practitioners) and no claim is made for their sufficiency or thoroughness. They are posted as an aid to practitioners and researchers and should generally be considered as experimental products that require research as to their psychometric characteristics.”

What does this mean to me? Well…

  1. ¬†This means that “fidelity” to anything in education, especially a curriculum (program, what have you), is following the program to the letter — even “following steps and wording…” — which makes me so angry that I spent thousands of dollars receiving my license to teach! What this says to me is that as long as I can read a script, and “provide students many opportunities to respond,” I can be a successful teacher. This is WRONG! According to the checklist above, teachers should also be “familiar with lesson formats and progression through activities.” Many teachers are not trained in this way. Teachers do not know WHY they are reading this script, doing this lesson, following this instruction. They just do it. They are observed as working “with fidelity.” This is MADDENING, as outcomes for “success” are shown as minutes using the program, NOT how well a child learns the material (or if the child even uses the material once the program is over).
  2. This also means that “fidelity” includes students themselves — “student engagement in lesson” and “student success at completing activities.” Have you ever seen a group of students use a program with fidelity? Really? I haven’t. A whole group of students mindlessly completing activities is NOT LEARNING, and I’m sorry (not sorry), but one or two members of any group at any one time are NOT fully engaged, nor are they successful at completing activities. Students (or teachers, or politicians, or whoever) completing activities does not equal success. Can you say a group of people — let’s say teachers, for instance, are teaching with fidelity when they watch their students (proctor – that’s the word) take a standardized test? NO! Those same students don’t pass the test, and then everyone is up in arms about the lack of “quality education.”

Let’s all take a hard look at “FIDELITY” in education. Please. Let’s go back to the question of “WHY.”¬† WHY do my students need to work with this program? WHY will they gain more if they complete this task, rather than that task? WHY does minutes with a program mean more than an intelligent conversation (I’m thinking here, a conversation around a book’s theme, for example.)?

WHEN will society change?

(Just my evening of rambling. Please take this post with a grain of salt, or respond intelligently, as you wish. Thank you for reading.)