Resistance is Futile

I’ve been thinking about data a lot recently. It’s pretty much unavoidable here in the overly-large school district, where the rising tide of collecting and analyzing student data is starting to overwhelm everything else.

We start with Virginia’s standardized testing program, similar to those in other states, which replaces most learning activities in the late spring. Plus a variety of other required “assessments” for various purposes that students must take throughout the rest of the year.

However, most of the growth in student data collection comes from a combination of “professional learning communities” and our home-grown online practice testing system.

For the past three years at our annual Leadership Conference (the August kickoff for school administrators and others), the superintendent has decreed that everyone will participate in PLCs. Which would be a good thing if they were actually focused on learning and were communities of learners that had developed organically.

In most cases, they are neither.

Teachers discussing their required PLCs normally refer to them as “meetings” (assigning all the high regard most of us have for such events) rather than communities. The primary purpose of these meetings in most schools is creating “common assessments” for student to take and then, once the assessments are administered, sifting through the data as a group to make meaning out of it.

Increasingly that data is coming from our assessment reporting tool, which essentially is a big database that makes it easy to spit out multiple combinations of SOL-type* questions for kids to respond to. Twice a year the database also provides required “division-wide assessments” in many subjects for students in most grades.

The tests data just keep coming.

Of course, all this demand for data comes at a price. Collecting it subtracts from limited instructional time. Building the tests and analyzing the results syphons from limited teacher planning time.

And then there’s the question of whether any of these tests are valid assessments of student learning. Or whether the knowledge being tested is what students need in the first place.  Obsessing over data diverts attention from any real discussion of the changes that need to be made in our educational structure.

But none of that is important. The data is all that matters.

* SOL = standards of learning, the nickname for Virginia’s standardized testing program.