Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Data-informed? Or Data-Driven?

This has especially been on my mind over the last day or so. I have used the term "data-informed" over "data-driven" for a very long time. I believe that TEACHERS are the only ones who actually "drive" the instruction in their classrooms....data informs their work, as does myriad other things that they use to make every decision for every minute of every day in their classrooms. Yes, data plays a big part in that. But does it actually "drive" it?

When I first started working here in Harlem, I made a point of talking about being data-informed rather than data-driven. I've actually worked  hard to empower teachers to know that they are the "drivers" in their classrooms, and to change the way we talk about data.

However, I recently met with a principal who really insists on using "data-driven". In fact, he uses "driven" a lot. Assessment "drives" instruction. Data "drives" instruction. He refuses to hear what I say about teachers being the drivers. It's kind of "driving" me crazy.

Maybe it is just semantics, and I'm overthinking it. But data is just data. Just numbers. They don't mean anything without context and interpretation. So a number like 67 doesn't really mean anything unless there is something else around it, providing context. If you have 67% of your students "meeting standards" on an accountability test, you are below the benchmark for this year (92.5%). However, if you had 48% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE improvement. If you had 82% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE drop. One way means keep doing what you are doing. The other means you need to make some changes. Who/what "drives" that decision? The 67? Or the interpretation of that data by people/experts?

If it's 67 degrees in Chicago in January, it's WARM!!! If it's 67 degrees in Florida in July, it's COLD!! But the air temperature is the same. You'd take off a jacket in Chicago, but you'd put on a sweatshirt in Florida. Your interpretation of the data is what drives you to make a change. You make decisions based on your context, your knowledge of the situation as well as using the data you have.

See, the NUMBERS aren't driving anything. It's the people that have the knowledge behind the numbers that are doing the driving.

So that's why I'm a stickler about the words. Teachers are the expert drivers. They take the data and make sense of it and determine the best instructional steps based on the data....and on their own knowledge and expertise.

I'd much rather have my instruction driven by an informed teacher than by a spreadsheet.

**Definition of drive, according to Merriam-Webster.com
5a: to exert inescapable or coercive pressure on : force <driven by his passions> b: to compel to undergo or suffer a change (as in situation or emotional state) <drove him crazy> <drove her out of business> c: to urge relentlessly to continuous exertion <the sergeant drove his recruits> d: to press or force into an activity, course, or direction <the drug habit drives addicts to steal> e: to project, inject, or impress incisively <drove her point home>
6: to force (a passage) by pressing or digging
8: to give shape or impulse to <factors that drive the business cycle> <the ideas that have driven history>

Monday, July 9, 2012

My initial thoughts regarding areas of research:

My initial proposal is not fleshed out yet, but this is what I have so far:

Throughout the educational system we often see an attempt to assign “blame” at a variety of factors when students are not successful. Legislators and community members blame teachers, high school can often point fingers at the middle school, middle school will point fingers at the elementary level, while elementary will look at the parents. In fact, throughout the system, fingers are often pointed at parents when children are not successful in school.

We need to engage parents more in understanding what their children are expected to learn and to help them understand how well their children are progressing toward those goals. I have seen some incredibly distressing practice in “grading” students, practices that are unfair to students, practices that parents don’t understand, that do not effectively communicate student learning to students or parents.

What methods can a district best use to effectively update grading practices that not only communicate progress to students and parents, but can also engage students in their own learning, and improve student learning?

• What is the real purpose of grades?
• What are current perceptions of the purpose of grades?
• What is the best way to assess and communicate student progress and growth?
• How do we move practitioners to better grading practices?
• What role does the principal play in moving faculty toward better assessment and grading practices?

I continue to ponder how to focus this large, emotional area.
One of my swirling thoughts is about "dispositions". So much has research been done in this area and I wonder why it's so hard to make systemic change....I do understand why it's hard for parents to grasp a new way of determining/measuring student growth.

I just wonder why it is so hard for some teachers to consider something different than the punitive, "gotcha" model. ("This assignment is 1 day late, you get a zero. I'm just preparing you for the 'real world' type of approach"....so if you didn't turn in your eligibility paperwork/grades on time, did you lose a day of pay? You mean that "real world"?)

So, more reading, more reflecting, more conversations with colleagues.