Death by data

CST scores are in.

With the data management program my district uses, teachers can look up individual students or class periods and compare their STAR results with the school average, district percentages, and state numbers.  As department chair at a school that encourages collaboration, I am always interested to see how my teachers do by these measures.

One teacher in my department called early in the day. He actually was the first teacher to look up scores (even before I knew they were posted).  In our conversation he began his analysis of why some of his numbers were lower than last year. Then I logged in and began looking at each teacher in my department, printing cluster analyses and departmental growth reports.

That same day I began pulling data on pretty much everything measurable at a school site for the WASC midterm report I am writing. Numbers on race, gender, suspensions, parent’s education, API, AYP, CAHSEE… there are so many percentages and statistics!

And where am I now after number crunching for most of the day?  Really tired.  A little stressed.  And asking myself the same question I encourage my students to ask… Why is this important?

It is easy to get lost in a data jungle. It is too easy to make judgments about data without really knowing all the variables. Policy makers change school systems because of data.  Data brings accountability… data doesn’t lie… data is important.

Here is what is important to me:  I want to be the best teacher I can be. I want my students to work hard, learn a lot, think, and leave my class smarter, wiser and inspired. Yes… I’m idealistic.  But, the most important things are my students. Each student in my room deserves a teacher who wants to be there, is effective at instruction, and contributes to student knowledge.  I don’t want to get caught up in the mundane or the multiple demanding tasks that pull me away from the important things.  I want to teach.

I see value in the data: students can be identified for academic support services, teachers can evaluate their effectiveness, school information is accessible to the public.  But I do not want the data to overshadow all the good. Statistics are used as the catalyst for change instead of an intrinsic motivation to want to do well.

Data is part of the story, but not the story itself. The story reaches out further, deeper and is more complex than numbers on a page. The story begins when I go back to school.

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