Lately, there has been much debate about both the relevance and reliance of data in education. As teachers, we’re being told more and more to use data to drive instruction and having data used to judge our performance. Looking back at our first week back from vacation, I’m struck by the variance in my sprouts reaction to coming back to school... I wonder how the data would support my theories.

Many children, who struggled before vacation, have taken huge leaps in the week since we’ve returned. Others who began to make great gains seem to have forgotten all they’d learned. A few who I thought would really labor behaviorally have not – they’ve blossomed instead. All the data, both concrete and anecdotal, I have at my disposal told me these children would do one thing, yet they did another.

Why? The only reason I can think of is quite simply, they are children… human beings (albeit tiny ones), not cogs or robots... (Alas my boyhood dream of living in a robot world has not been realized yet.) No single score on an assessment, a snapshot of a child on a particular day, one very small moment in their day, is going to explain the way a child learns or behaves. The minute we stop looking at the whole child and only data, that’s the minute we stop doing what’s best for children… we devalue the people they are when we summarize a sprout with a score.

Don’t get me wrong; assessment data is helpful… it helps me see what I need to focus on and where I might improve my teaching. It shows me if new practices and theories I’m using in the classroom are making an impact. It helps me understand myself as a teacher much more than it helps me comprehend my students. We need to be careful about remembering what the data is most useful for.

No matter how much I comb over spreadsheets or analyze charts and numbers, I’m never going to really know why Charlie, who struggled behaviorally more than almost any other child, had a stellar week back. I’ll never really understand why Barry, who never wrote a complete sentence before vacation, wrote an entire story the week after.

Working with children is not like working with reports or charts. The human body has close to ten trillion cells… that’s more than any spreadsheet I’ve ever seen.


Claudia Daggett said...

Amen! Keep blogging.

Allie said...

Can you hear me cheer? Well said!

You make me ache to get back into a classroom.

Wendy said...

Fabulous post! WE ARE NOT NUMBERS!

Pam said...

Absolutely! It is impossible to expect those darn data lines to form a nice even arch upwards when you are dealing with PEOPLE...NOT machines!

Kelly said...

Amazing post. So true.

The other problem with data is that sometimes it wastes time looking at something we already know. After a week of DIBELing my friend who was assessing my class placed 4 booklets on my desk and said, "these are the ones that stood out." Without looking I knew exactly who the 4 were. Haha. Glad she wasted that time out of her classroom.

Plants seeds of knowledge...for our future! said...

Wow your observations about your class were almost dead on with mine for my class! I was totally surprised this week when I thought about how it would go! Kids surprised and amazed me this week! I cannot agree more assessment is useful to the teacher who is in the classroom and knows her students! I know if one my little ones didn't get enough sleep the night before or is going through the truauma of a new divorce. Those that are not working with my students could not possibly know these things and take them into account when looking at the results of an assessment. It is so frustrating to me that the people making the decisions are the people who are not nor have been in a classroom working with youngsters!

Mr. A. said...

Thanks for all the wonderful insights! 'It is so frustrating to me that the people making the decisions are the people who are not nor have been in a classroom working with youngsters!' Really rings loudly for some reason... :)

Megan said...

This is exactly how I have been feeling about data. I do think it is important, but it also takes away from the many fun aspects of kindergarten. We DIBEL our students three times a year for benchmark tests. After we get the results, we test them by paper to see the specific skills they need to work on in a small group setting. Then we progress monitor the red students weekly, yellow every other week, and low greens once a month. I am testing every single week. It is very frustrating, not to mention that we are expected to do this all on our "free time", which you know, we never have in kindergarten!! We also give a math assessment test 3 times a year as well. As important as this data is, I think it takes away from singing, dancing, and art.