“Think of the children,” is a rallying call often heard around this time of year, well at least this time of the year in every four years. Naturally, we all step in line and say ‘yes, for the children.’ But at some point, particularly in the state and Federal level informed decisions require quantitative, aggregate date. Political leaders don’t need to know about the children; they need to know about the data. The larger the budget, it would seem, the less personal information is required. An effective educational leader needs to know when to use what type of data. It almost appears that the closer one works directly with students, the more qualitative, narrative information is required. As an example, Student X wears the same shirt to school every day, has problems navigating a computer, and uses a gate-count system when doing simple math. Any experienced teacher knows that there was a lot of information I just shared, and some would say, this information is far more important than how her test scores add to the overall CAASPP results of a school site, district, or even a state. When it comes to data, it’s about how to use it when making informed decisions.
Education has always been about the data. If anyone tells you that education is about anything else, then they are trying to sell you something. Test scores are data, whether it’s this week’s spelling test or the latest on-line state mandated assessment, the fuel that runs education is data. Personal data needs to be stored in a Student Information System that requires compatibility and exchange, via an SIF. State test scores need to be accessed by, well the state apparently. This includes county, state, and federal agencies who use this data in countless ways. Some of the data is identifiable while a larger, big data will be de-identified. Finally, as the data get even bigger, and individualism is removed the aggregate data, large groups of students is collected by federal agencies allow for informed decisions to take place regarding policies like No Child Left Behind. But where NCLB went wrong is that education became generating data for data’s sake.
Let me be clear; it’s not about making data. In a recent conversation with a classmate, he and I talked about the online assessment tool called MAP. This program, from the North West Evaluation Association, claims to be a measure of academic progress. The test is a necessary interim adaptive assessment and is given four times a year. Much like any data collection product, it offers teachers the ability to personalize learning instruction. Of course, NWEA has a program called Skills Navigator, which is another online intervention program with proven effectiveness in improving MAP scores. MAP offers principals the ability to effectively evaluate site-based programs. District leaders are promised the ability to understand how each student in the district is doing. In the end, it is about making the data, and the MAP is the way my leaders collect that data.