Why Education Reform Needs Data

Public education is a fragile yet critical resource and we have to do more to strengthen our public schools.  People are willing to acknowledge that too many students are in schools that don’t give them an adequate chance to learn.  Teachers know what it takes to be effective and administrators are working hard to get the necessary resources into their schools.

And yet. And yet.

There’s real concern about whether we can deliver to all students. I’ve been thinking a lot about this gulf between our effort and the nagging doubts about the ability to deliver success.

Why is it there? I think it’s because we’re afraid of the numbers. I can understand the inclination.  I was never big on numbers. In third grade, 8 X 2 frustrated and defeated me.

Nationally, numbers have gotten a bad name in education. Rather than seeing them as helpful, we see them as punitive.

Data, even standardized test data, is an important tool for teachers.But, the numbers hold the key to translating our aspiration for public schools into a success story. The numbers can tell us which concepts our students have mastered and which ones need more work. Teachers need to know that. Parents need to know that and, yes, the taxpayers who fund schools need to know that too.

So let’s have an honest conversation about assessments, tests and all. Rather than an all or nothing question of to test or not to test, let’s start talking about how various measures can be put together to give us a multi-faceted picture of the complex work of teaching and learning.  We need to be bold enough to be honest about what tests measure, what they can’t measure and what other data we can use to fill the gaps.

At VIVA Teachers, we know that teachers can drive this conversation. Put away the anti-testing rhetoric and the blame-the-teachers vitriol. And let the numbers help us find the right answer.

What’s a good example of how to use test data effectively?

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Comments (1)

  1. Lesley Hagelgans

    I think the use of data you call for is starting to happen.
    Here’s a way that data has been used effectively in my school. It’s a mult-step process.

    First – each question or section on a assessment is linked to a specific piece of the Common Core expressed to students and parents in lay terms not eduspeak.
    Second – each section of the assessment is reported through the school’s reporting system (in my school’s case an online gradebook) such as comprehension, vocabulary, essay, etc.
    Third – students be allowed to retake just sections of the assessment where they want to improve and work with the teacher to target remediation for that particular skill. As far as who gets to retake and consequently truly target learning, those students who were not proficient on a particular standard and those who simply want to to better.
    Outside of summative assessments (projects, papers, tests and quizzes), this same approach could apply to formative assessments (homework, classwork, etc). If this appraoch applied to the formative assessments, there would be less need for retaking and redoing on the summative assessments.
    In my school, students meet with teachers during homeroom, Enrichment (like a study hall), and sometimes lunch to discuss what part of an assessment will be retaken or redone and what actions the students and teachers need to undertake to be better prepared or to make their paper/project better. When I say better I mean more profiecient in terms of the Common Core standard being measured. Once a teacher and student agree on the targeted learning for improvement, a plan is created, a timeline established, and a parental signature required for awareness. When the student is ready to retake a test/quiz, there is an afterschool program they attend to redo the work. Papers and projects are usually resubmitted within 2 weeks.

    This takes a lot of time to implement. Everyone in the educational community – teachers, parents, and students – need to view grades in terms of measuring proficiency. Each assessment needs to be linked to the common core (and should be anyway in my opinion). As teachers we have to change the way we report our test data to students and parents. In conclusion, the reform is happening, but it’s slow. We are looking at a major overhaul of the assessments teachers give, how those results are reported to parents, and how teachers, parents and students use that data once it has been established. It’s no longer a culture of “Johnny got a C in English, and we’re moving on.”

    The other question popping up is what does the data measure? Does the data measure their content knowledge or their skills and abilities? If we are measuring content knowledge, it is easier to show growth using pre and post assessments on a unit of study. If we are measuring skills, then progress can be measured, but the data may not appear to be as cut and dried as content mastery.

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