Driven by Data

Drowning in Data CC by quinn.anya
In the last ten years education has seen an increased interest in and use of Data Driven Decision Making (DDDM). Data Driven Decision Making in education is defined as teachers, principals, and administrators "systematically collecting and analyzing various types of data, including input, process, outcome and satisfaction data, to guide a range of decisions to help improve the success of students and schools." (Marsh, Pane, Hamilton, 2006) In particular the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has driven more and more student testing and accountability. Implicit in NCLB is the idea that data is an important source to guide improvement in education and hold individuals and groups accountable. Today there is so much data that according to the Rand report Making Sense of Data Driven Decision Making some feel they are "drowning" in it.

The report makes these points
  • DDDM will not guarantee good decision making
  • Practitioners and policymakers should consider promoting the use of various types of data collected at multiple points in time.In other words triangulate the data
  • Equal attention needs to be paid to analyzing data and taking action based on data. ( taking action is more challenging and may require more creativity than analysis- taking action generally receives less attention, particularly in professional development for educators
  • What are the consequences of high stakes state testing and excessive reliance on test data? Some results may lead to improvement and others may not be productive. There is the potential of narrowing instruction, the risk of excessive testing. Reducing the number of assessments may be useful.
  • Tying incentives to data may have negative results

Any research or testing should have a clear purpose, should be aligned with standards and should provide information that can lead to meaningful change. According to David Drew, professor at Claremont Gradute University, who echos many academics, "While No Child Left Behind has fundamentally failed, it did have some good points...It was a worthy goal to try to assess how schools are performing..Its weakness, though, was that there was too much testing with deleterious and damaging results where students get stressed to the point where they can't learn." Another criticism of NCLB is that while it can diagnose problems, it includes little funding or solutions to strengthen schools. (Tasci, Educators Face New Challenges)

Can Standardized Tests and DDDM Measure Creativity and 21st Century Learning Skills?

Mike Schmoker in Measuring What Matters believes that data driven decision making is here to stay and that there have been positive consequences; however, he also notes that " In many schools, it has morphed into an unintended obstacle to both effective instruction and an intellectually rich, forward-looking education." He feels that DDDM must help students from all backgrounds with 21st -century skills through authentic learning rather than only through standardized test driven data. Schmoker recommends looking at the New York Performance Standards Consortium who are using data for authentic project based learning. (Schmoker, 2009)

In an elluminate live session, Transforming the Learning Environment, Leveraging Learning Communities: A Finland and American Perspective. two educators from Finland and two from US schools discussed their learning environments and innovation. Ben Daley COO of High Tech High in San Diego, an innovative school system, noted that the US has been concerned about their students poor results in international PISA tests and the consequence of that concern has lead to an emphasis on more standardized tests. Finland consistently ranks at or near the top of the tests and has little to no standardized testing in their system. Finland schools use collaboration at all levels. While Daley's schools use collaborative techniques and feature project based learning, they still must do the usual standardized tests and fight for funding. In the elluminate session, Daley noted that while the US is trying to compete with countries like Finland, it is doing the exact opposite of what Finland is doing.

EduCitizenship 2020 recommends that government and school systems need to work together to reduce the amount of testing that is done in schools. Only testing that also includes information about critical thinking, authentic learning and 21st century skills should be considered. Teachers who are trusted to be the trained experts must be given the autonomy to oversee the learning; they must not be forced into continuous teaching to narrow tests. Only data that is meaningful and understandable to all should be collected. Otherwise there will continue to be a system like the one depicted in the video and cartoon below.


Dilbert: Copyright Scott Adams November 7th 2010

For a good resource on ways to Improve Assessment, see 5 Example of Improved Approaches to Assessment (from the 2010 NETP draft) by K Walsh in Emerging Ed Tech September 26, 2010.

Next up, Flexibility, Differentiation and Restructuring