We can’t leave student achievement on the chalkboard
Information used to measure student progress does have benefits. It helps teachers understand how students are improving and builds support among students, teachers, and administrators. But there are plenty of reasons to understand students only on the whole scale – there’s no way data could have influenced a curriculum with grades just five, ten, or twenty years ago.
But we’re now in a different realm – when the 21st century school becomes a large personalized learning community, you can’t leave performance on the chalkboard or state test marks alone. You have to get more personalized, more focused, and more focused on giving each student the best possible experience in the world, simultaneously– the moment to moment learning. You can’t rely on the performance of one group of students to build a district or the whole school. You have to go higher than that.
You also have to capture the whole world as your students’ learning zone. These are new risks and opportunities you have to acknowledge, even embrace.
But good data analysis isn’t necessarily good data management. This is something many schools are beginning to fail at, because so much data is thrown at every student, each piece of data in a spreadsheet, or on a big screen, out of control. We don’t have the structure yet in schools for how to analyze the data that’s accumulated. The proliferation of data means that we have more unknowns than ever before and increased risk for error.
As systems collect more and more data on student learning, school systems have to create risk-reduction processes. It isn’t just about taking data and fixing mistakes quickly with computer systems. That system has to be tight and integrated – a system from the top down that puts teachers, building staff, and the support staff around that data under a shared system of accountability that has to both deal with new and old challenges.
That means getting to know all the data elements that will be added and changing the policies from one school to the next so that we can have rigorous policies and processes in place from the outset. We have to add new data elements into our system every year. Where there are no trends, we have to spot them. With open and flexible data, we’ll be able to share and even enhance the data that we collect; for every question we ask for a different question, it gives us a new window in learning how our students are learning. With shared data, we need to get more creative with the data we already collect so that it connects better and more frequently to our real-time tracking of students. You can never get good at analytics in three years – we need to get better at analytics now.