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In Pursuit of Data

We talk a lot about data around here. A lot! How to collect it, how to analyze it, what to do with the analysis.

Of course, data in an educational setting represents children and, let’s face facts, is little more than a code word for standardized testing. The reality is we have no other mechanisms in place for gathering the numbers administrators want and need to crunch into their reports.

But why are we so hell bent on turning our students into a stream of data?

A recent post at the Answer Sheet blog didn’t really bring much new to the discussion but one paragraph does provide an answer to that question.

It is clear why Arne Duncan and like-minded reformers favor standardized tests. Along with high-stakes accountability mechanisms, such tests have given policy leaders at the state and federal levels an unprecedented ability to pry open the classroom and control instructional delivery. Equally important to them, standardized tests have yielded a cascade of data that policy elites have assembled into a picture of school quality–constructing evaluative report cards, and even tying student achievement scores to particular teachers as a means of calculating “value” added.

That desire to “control instructional delivery” and to quantify “school quality” (meaning teachers and kids, of course) quickly gets pushed down to, and very much shapes what happens in, classrooms.

Here in the overly large school district that desire for data is manifested in endless teacher meetings to create a flood of “common assessments” (don’t use that T word) and an expensive online system to provide the raw materials and delivery system. Followed, of course, by more meetings to analyze the results.

All of which sucks up many, many hours of classroom and teacher time while contributing little or no value to meaningful student learning.

But it’s all good. We got data!


  1. L A Cochran

    I think, in addition to what the answer sheet said, this approach stems from the believe that what gets measured, gets attention. But you get at a more fundamental issue, can the metrics really improve the teaching process. Mmmmmnotsomuch, based on what every teacher I know says.

  2. Paul Cancellieri

    I agree, and I think that it erodes confidence in classroom educators as expert assessors. The information (let’s not use the D word) that we collect in our classrooms isn’t valued despite our expertise and proximity to the learning. Unless it’s standardized, it’s not accurate, says this new paradigm.

  3. tim

    The best “data” I ever collected on my students came from sitting down and talking to them, asking questions and understanding their responses. However, my notes don’t work well in a spreadsheet.

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