Students are people not numbers. There I said it. Schools have such an obsession with data that in many ways it is just sending the US further and further down the rabbit hole in education obscurity. President Obama's education initiatives where initially supposed to move us away from high stakes testing and focus on more tangible skills that schools are teaching. In reality, it has made the focus on data and testing more prevalent then ever.
The problem with data is that it is very difficult to get data that matters. It also tends to be a issue that schools continue to throw money at with very little success. This morning I attended a training by the Georgia Department of Education showing us their new data system. While its a cool tool, it does not really give me that much to look at because it's based on last years data. While it could be helpful in interventions, SST, and RTI, it does not take into account major factors that change in the life's of our students from year to year. Basing instructional decisions on something that is over a year old and sometimes more is ineffective as students mature and change. Yes, High School kids actually mature. They turn over new leafs. They can of course also go into negative things from year to year. All of these have very little to do with the actually school.
The other issue I have with this new system and big data in general is that test data is such a major part of it. I teach US History which has an end of course test. The data taken from my students after they take the test is then compared to data from their last Social Studies test. That test happened in MIDDLE SCHOOL. Yes, they actually want me to compare and do interventions based on a test that happened 3 to 4 years prior.
Schools should be measured on their instructional practices, not on some test that frankly does little to measure the effectiveness of a teacher and a course. How are students learning to think? How are they learning to create? It's one of the reasons I love the Maker Movement. It goes to what really matters. How are we preparing students for the real world? What technology skills are they learning in classes other than technology? They are all questions that should go into effectiveness measures. Guess what they are not.
With all of this, I also want to to ask the bigger question of why comparisons to others are so important? Situations outside of a classroom are different from state to state. One state might have more economically disadvantaged that measures into their scores. One state might have more rural districts that struggle to put the best teachers in the classroom. They are things that factor into that data. Comparing the US to other countries is also a losing battle. Most other countries send the less capable to trade schools early. We carry kids through a normal schedule until they are 18. The advantages and disadvantages of that system are a topic for another day, but it shows how big data stinks.
Big data is not the answer to fixing our school system. Schools are throwing money at something that is for the most part to time consuming and to complicated for a regular classroom teacher. We should be focusing on classroom practice, yet is seems teachers are just expected to know how to do that.