The data crush. . .

Brian Crosby—-one of the great minds blogging over at In Practice—wrote a great bit recently about a shift in schools that has run amok:

Now gathering data to drive your instruction is a good thing. So good a thing in fact that each of our little programs generates its own set of data and we get to compile and organize it all – whether it is important data as far as informing our teaching or not…much of this is being done on computers, so therefore its been decided that it takes little time … its easy to input and output the data … and here’s a chart to write all the data down in columns so we have all the data in one place. So much so that it is taking a lot of what we used to use as planning time to do all this bookkeeping of data.

Teachers are therefore cutting back on other aspects of their jobs that require time. Like planning.

Brian’s thoughts really resonate with me—and I don’t work in a high-poverty, program driven community!  Even working in a building where teachers still have the professional flexibility to make instructional decisions based on their own knowledge and experience,  I struggle with collecting, manipulating and reporting results.

It’s a labor intensive process in the best of places. In high poverty schools where everything has to be carefully documented, I’ll bet it could be crippling.

But the effect here is the same as it is in Brian’s school—I spend less time grading, planning and providing feedback today than ever before because I’m spending so much more time collecting and manipulating (not analyzing) the piles of numbers that are required to make us appear “data-driven.”

That’s kind of shocking, isn’t it?

Given the documented evidence that Marzano has laid out in What Works in Schools about the impact that curricular design and effective feedback have on students, you’d think our schools would be far more inclined to free teachers to do the knowledge based work of using information to identify and react to trends, rather than bogging them down in a bajillion random programs that require a bajillion random reports.

Until we automate the process of collecting data in every school—using handhelds, convergence devices or spreadsheets to make this process easier—and until we set priorities on the kinds of data that we want to collect, we’re going to be crushed.

Formative assessment—which is the key to continuous improvement—is dependent on taking action.  When teachers are pushed to the point where simply collecting information prevents follow-up, formative assessment is dead.

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