Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forget the Data You Have Always Known

I'd like to suggest that the standardized test data that we all know and, well, despise is not the end of the data story. In fact, it's just the beginning of the story.

I've been bouncing around the educational blog world where I expected to find the best educators doing the greatest things. No doubt this is true, but I didn't expect that the word 'data' would be so two dimensional. So, I've begun to craft an argument for a new prospective on data and the introduction to that new idea goes something like this...

I first clued into the power of what simple data can do to a class my first year teaching. One day, I tallied up the scores to a test and wrote onto the whiteboard how many students received an; A, B, C, D, F or below. This suddenly took each section of science I was teaching to near silence. This was uncommon in my class that first year teaching! Immediately following were questions from many students as they wanted to know why some achieved better than others, what a good or bad test grade would mean for their overall class grade. Also assertions and accusations were flung out into the classroom environment that took aim at either the high achievers or the low achievers. 

A- 4
B- 11
C- 3
D- 3
F- 2
I wanted to provide some simple feedback on the test just as I had seen my high school teachers and college professors do from time to time. What I didn’t expect is such great focus in that very simple data. I didn’t expect all the questions and curiosity and I certainly didn’t expect the vicious undercurrent between my students to rear its ugly head at that moment. It was a lightning rod for attention and I could see that, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Over the next several years, I continued to present data in a variety of ways and tried hard to capture that energy, harness it, and use it to my advantage. The result shaped my assessments, and created the simple graphs (coming soon with tons of examples), along with a keen sense about how I wanted to lead conversations about this information.

Those several years have led me to believe a few things about data:

1.    Data needs to be in the hands of the student, in a simple and clear way that they can understand.
2.    There is great power in holding class and individual conversations about their data.
3.    Students will universally, and naturally, experience important self-reflection when presented with data.
4.    If I create the right class environment, students will be able to handle the data with maturity.
5.    Student’s are hungry for accurate and impartial information about their progress.
6.    Students want the teacher on their side, to work with them.

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