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Final Exams: What I Learned This Year

The school year comes to a close this week here in our overly-large school district and, like the kids taking their final exams1, it’s time to reflect on the past ten months and figure out if I’ve learned anything over that time.

Since I don’t like multiple choice tests, this will be an essay.

One thing that’s been very clear in working with our schools this year is that they just love their data. Data, data, and more data.

An increasing amount of the precious little time available outside of actual teaching seems to be taken up with organizing and analyzing data on the kids. And to facilitate all that organizing and analyzing, our schools have adopted (or in a few cases, have been forced to adopt) the concept of “professional learning communities” (PLC)2.

It sounds nice, but I really wonder what’s happening in those structures. When talking to teachers and others in the schools, more often than not they refer to those gatherings as “meetings”, as in “I have a PLC meeting this afternoon”, often applying all the distain that many of us outside the classroom reserve for that term.

Much of the focus of their meeting seems to be not on learning (professional or otherwise), or collaborating, or on forming communities, but on building “common assessments”, a phrase that boils down to everyone teaching a particular grade level or course giving the same tests to their kids at the same time.

The better to gather more data with – a vicious and never-ending circle.

When you toss in bracelets that are supposed to measure student engagement and a growing collection of other “assessment tools” that keep arriving in vendor spam, the obsession over data continues to grow.

So, at what point does the data become more important than the source of that data, which of course, are kids? Or when will more time and effort be devoted to the data?

I suspect the farther you take the numbers from the classroom, the more likely it’s already happened. Just look at our national education policy.

End of section 1. Wait for the proctor to instruct you to continue.

1 Which they discover quickly during their school experience are never the “final” exams. :-)

2 Many schools have altered the name to CLT (collaborative learning teams), or just CT, or some other variation on the same theme.


  1. Jenny

    I’m not sure (with my limited viewpoint) that the schools love data. My sense is that the love of data comes from above and is being forced on those of us in schools.

    • Tim

      Your viewpoint is exactly the right one, Jen. As I implied, the farther you get from the classroom, the more the data becomes the primary means people view kids, teachers and schools. I’m not sure many teachers want (or even need) the flood of data being accumulated, but you’re right that principals and the administration above them sure seem to love it, which means they expect everyone to embrace the data.

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