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.