Data, Friend or Foe?

This year I have kind of been geeking out on the numbers by trying to find ways to use our copious amounts of student achievement data to help make teachers jobs more efficient.  No, no.  Not standardized testing data.  We’ve been using our in-house, purpose built reading and writing assessments.  This year, we looked at our classroom based reading data (DRA2) to see if students made an acceptable amount of growth over the year.  We also looked at our writing assessment data to see what the average student growth was over the year.  We used this number as a way to benchmark the margin of growth all students hopefully made in a year’s time relative to their own starting point.  But the best part about these numbers was that they were derived from an assessment tool we created that matches our own benchmarks for student progress.

Using data in this way feels practical and takes some of the subjectivity out of looking at student progress.  Being objective isn’t the ultimate goal, mind you.  But when you don’t give tests that are black and white, when you are working with 6, 7 and 8 year olds, and you have a team of teachers working together, you want some meaningful measures that help you all evaluate children in the same way.

I think teachers have a love/hate relationship with data.  We find it useful, but also confronting.  When we first started looking at student achievement data in this way a few years ago, there were some tense silences at meetings.  Teachers tend to feel insecure when they look at ‘the numbers’.  This is understandable, because most teachers put their heart and soul into their work every day and they want to see each child reach their full potential.  When the numbers are good, we feel so validated.  When the numbers are not good, we can’t help but take it personally.

In this era of crazy high stakes testing, it’s easy to feel like data is evil.  But it’s not.  The best data measures what teachers feel is important.  It should be used to recognize student accomplishments and as a way for teachers to reflect on and improve their teaching.


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