Chasing Data

I have spent the good part of the past 6 years of my professional life analyzing assessment data.  NWEAs, NECAPs (NH’s state assessment), school-based assessments, surveys, etc.  I have studied proficiencies, RIT scores, grade reports and AYP calculations.  I have taught professional development courses on how to use assessment databases and I have met with administrators from other districts to compare our data sets and strategies for improvement.

I’m beginning to wonder if I have wasted my time doing so, because I feel like the greyhound chasing the “rabbit”, only my rabbit is data.  However,  just like the greyhound, I will always be chasing and never catching and I will be forgetting why I do what I do.

I’m not naive, or cynical enough to think that my work had no impact.  I was able to identify several areas of improvement, especially with some of our underprivileged students and I feel good about that, especially since changes were made.  And, while it is too early to tell if those changes result in better test scores, that’s where I am troubled.  I have spent 6 years studying test scores.  Not students.  Not kids.  Not children.  Not pedagogies.  Not learning styles.  Not personal learning networks.  Students have become simply a number, one of thousands that go into a school’s data mosaic.

And that’s my point.  Instead of seeing children as individual learners, by spending six years chasing assessment data I have categorized, labeled, sorted, averaged and minimized our students to a number.  Shame on me.

Actually, shame on us.  We live in a society that celebrates miraculous gains in test scores without asking how the hell we allowed a school to perform so poorly for so long in this country.  Or, as Chris Lehmann writes, when we have successes we forget about the minority of students that we leave behind.  Many schools use those test scores to allow access to higher level courses like Algebra and AP courses, thus producing an inappropriate focus on arbitrary test scores instead of student potential.  We live in an environment that values the all mighty test score over the power of our students to learn and grow in authentic and more meaningful ways.  We hear everyday, “She just doesn’t test well,” yet we resist more authentic means to measure her.  We see students stressing about upcoming assessments yet we continue to assign them.  We continue to value shallow multiple choice tests instead of the deep, meaningful learning that can and should be taking place.

Shame on me and shame on us for chasing data and dragging our students behind.

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3 Responses to Chasing Data

  1. Luke Pickett says:

    You are doing your job -1st half. You are macro. Its the 2nd half that may be missing. Can you translate the macro data into actionable – real – items for your teachers to then bring to the individual classroom and individual student? That’s management – see data, interpret data, instruct, delegate, follow-up, adjust, repeat. If there is follow thru, improvement should occur. Its whether your teachers really do something from your directives, your interpretations that matter. Reality is, not much is done after data is observed at the senior level – universally, not just sau 16.

  2. Kathy Desmarais says:

    Tony, you are much more than an administrator who chases data. You are an administrator who is reflective and brave enough to question your own practices. When I listen to you, I hear your passion for students and learning. And that is why I’ve been so confused about the direction I see our profession going.
    Can we be student centered and data driven? I don’t know. I do know if I want my students to be passionate about learning, I need to be passionate about teaching. I also know some of my proudest moments as a teacher are when students have taken risks, pushed themselves beyond where they were comfortable. I made sure to share these moments during parent conferences because there was no place on a report card to document these true learning successes.
    Please keep questioning and searching for ways to lead us toward creating schools students run to, schools where all students are needed so learning can happen for everyone.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Very kind of you, Kathy. I think that data, real, authentic data that individual teachers collect on a daily basis is important. Data that shows the sometimes incremental, sometimes astronomical gains that students make. These are all of the little pieces of data, little nuances that teachers are trained to recognize and standardized tests will never. A standardized test will neither show compassion toward, nor understanding for the stories that each child brings with them to class everyday. I once read a quote that said the following, “I don’t care how much you know, I want to know that you care.” Teachers care, tests don’t.

      As for my feelings about chasing data. After 6+ years of analyzing standardized assessment data, I can’t determine whether or not all of the work we have done to analyze NECAP and NWEA has made any difference, or is simply the work that our teachers do on a regular basis. And, frankly, after all of this time I still answer the same questions I was answering 6+ years ago and that is not to suggest that those questions should not be asked, it’s merely an acknowledgment that after all this time and all this analysis, the questions have remained the same.

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