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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is data a dirty word?

In Education Week on 12/18/13 Peter DeWitt ask the question: Why is data a dirty word? He goes on to write a good article around the idea that we are inudated with data in our schools. He points us to good sources to make this point: Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan's "Putting Faces on Data.  He uses their work to provide perfect questions about the data we are collecting in our schools.   
" Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan, they write that "It's not just the sheer volume of information that is daunting. It is the form in which data arrive-can you imagine a devoted teacher becoming excited about the latest eloctronic report that serves up scores of disaggregated statistics?" Sharratt and Fullan go on to quote their colleagues Any Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley by writing "Teachers are data driven to distraction."

In their book, Sharratt and Fullan ask educators to take a "deliberate pause" and ask the following questions:
  • How useful have your data been?
  • Of all the data available, which are most critical?
  • Which data are missing?
  • Instead of using data, do players at every level "hope for" exceptional instructional practice within the mysterious black box known as the classroom?
  • Give examples from your data that demonstrate you know that every child is learning at his or her maximum potential?"
These are crucial questions in any discussion of assessment. I highly recommend them in any discussion of assessment. The notion by Hargreaves and Shirley that Teachers are data driven to distraction deserves some immediate attention. I agree the amount of data teachers are required to collect under the current education reform policies are distracting them from good teaching. I feel the need to ask who is responsible for this? It is not teachers, not school adminstrators, or local schools. This insane focus on collecting data to the point, that it is distracting teachers is coming from the Federal Education policy of No Child Left Behind. This insanity is driven by Federal policies coming from the United States Department of Education. Keeping it simple in my humble opinion all distractions eminate from No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top polices. 

Time for a little professional reflection on data from Dr. Jesse Patrick Turner 

In my assessment courses I begin every course with this line on the board: There is the data that counts, and the data that really counts.

Then we proceed to list the data that counts to policy makers on the board. The usual suspect always shows state mastery test scores, (proficiency type data) assessments.

First question:  How useful is this data to students and teachers at the classroom level? The mantra usually goes something like this data tells us where our schools compare to others. Getting back to students and teachers…. Is this data useful for guiding differential instruction for individual students? Eventually the discussion ends up with not really. Does this data tell us explain why schools perform at certain levels compare to others? In a very short time it comes down to NO. So why do we collect it again? The answer ends up to something like we have to collect it. Would learning shut down if for some reason this data were lost? Resounding NO. 

Second question: So my follow up is: How useful is this data in driving instruction for individual students. It eventually comes around to well it's not timely enough to be used for that purpose really. It's grade level driven, so while this data informs us about a student's grade level proficiency, it does not inform us about where a students is proficient if they are not able to grade level work. It assessment we refer to that as the ceiling level. Good assessment practice requires we go down until we come to an assessment level that demonstrates they perform on. We learn only one thing from ceiling levels, our students cannot perform at this level, and we need to move down.  Again how useful is any of this data to driving instruction for students who are below proficiency? Answer not very useful. Considering that policy makers love to throw numbers like more than more 40% of our students can’t read, write, or do math at their grade level. So the data that counts to policy makers is of little use to nearly half of our students. So this data counts, but not to individual students.

Forth question: Can we talk about the data that really counts? We quickly discover the data that really counts is collected in the classroom on a daily basis. Are policy makers requesting this data? NO! Then are our policy makers using the data that really counts? Answer always ends up being NO. Can we afford to not look at this data? Again the answer ends up being NO. So the data that really counts does not count in Washington DC. Something is terribly wrong with a federal and state assessment systems that ignore the data that really counts, and Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium and PARCC cannot fix a broken policy.  

Peter DeWitt ends his piece rightly saying this about data. " We need to realize it's not the data's fault so we shouldn't hate it. It is what we, as educators or leaders, do with the data that matters."

I end with data becomes a dirty word when it does not inform instruction. When the main purpose of data collection is to compare, sort, and rate schools, and not improve learning for individual learners it become not a distraction, but harmful to students, teachers, and schools. It also begins to sound like eugenics. Eugenics is a dirty word in any discussions of race and class. Data becomes a dirty word when policy makers turn it in an abusive social shaping hammer. A hammer that continously degrades our children, their parents, and teachers. When policy makers refuse to stop using assessment as a hammer it becomes dirty. In simple terms it sure sounds like eugenics. 
I charge the United States Department of Education with abuse, and I plan on going to the July 28 National Badass Teachers protest outside the United States Department of Education's house of dirty data.
Silence and apathy are not acceptable,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner 

If you like to read Peter DeWitt's full article you can find it here

If you want to listen to what the walking man listened to on his walk snow shoe walk over the moutain today it Peter Tosh's Go Tell It On The Mountain

1 comment:

  1. Simple truth is DC does not want anyone to shake their money tree no matter how much it hurts children and their teachers Walking Man