In a recent commentary piece for Education Week, Brad C. Phillips and Jay J. Pfieffer reflect on data and how it is (mis)used in education. “Factions are setting up camp at two extremes: one for those who believe data is the Holy Grail, and the other for those who shun it,” they write. Phillips and Pfieffer’s view of data takes the middle ground: data is only useful if people can access and use it.
“Mountains” of data exist, but “there is little that busy people can use to make good decisions…the fixed and standardized ways that data are reported often do not strike educators as relevant or useful.” To win teachers over to the belief that data can be useful in better understanding their students at the individual level, the authors offer several guidelines to help data meet what they call the “usefulness standard”:
- Engage teachers and decision makers in the design of the tools used to collect data. They observe that only 28 states make longitudinal student data available to teachers, and though 40 states offer feedback to teachers based on student performance data, few ask whether the data included are what teachers want and need. Currently, the emphasis is on collecting summative test-score data, which only measures what has been learned at the end of a course of study—it does not help teachers make midcourse corrections or revisions to help students as they learn.
- Create regular opportunities to huddle around the data. Only 8 states require teachers and principals to be “data literate.” Statewide longitudinal data systems should create regularly scheduled opportunities “for teachers to gather and strategize about particular students who are struggling.”
- Tailor reports to your audience. Data systems need to have the capacity to create multiple types of reports that can be pulled at different points of time—each stakeholder is going to want different information. The authors believe that part of the reason some educators are skeptical about the utility of data is because the tools they have available are not the right ones for the job.
- “Useful” means many things and has many audiences. Currently, most data collection and reporting is narrowly confined to what is required by NCLB. Adding other types of data, such as prior coursework and grades, writing samples, participation in tutoring programs, etc. will improve the usefulness of data to classroom teachers, who can use it to tailor their lessons.
- Continuously hone validity and accuracy. The focus on “accountability” and the way data is used for this purpose is often viewed as punitive and unfair. On the other hand, statewide longitudinal data systems “have the opportunity to become highly developed instrument panels that guide teaching with a host of information about students, not just test scores.” The daily practice of using data has been acknowledged by classroom teachers to improve their effectiveness, and thus the data produced.
In the end, the authors conclude that “the time is nigh for education data systems to make themselves much more useful. Just as electronic health records and disease registries are fueling greater discoveries and personalized patient care, education data must become a necessity of teaching.”
To read the full article, please visit http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/23/32phillips.h31.html?qs=dear+data