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Teachers Crunching Numbers


Whatever you may think of NCLB and its focus on test scores, Milwaukee schools can’t seem to get enough of data assessment. And teachers are increasingly the number crunchers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Gone are the days when teachers were expected just to instruct. More and more are being asked to assess and collect data from student learning in order to target intervention. “It’s a much more systematized and scientific approach [to teaching],” according to Superintendent George Zimmer of Milwaukee's neighboring Richmond School District.

Data-driven decision making, as it is called, is driving school districts, like Milwaukee and neighboring communities, to use additional standardized testing to assess student learning. Since last year, the city’s public schools have used a customized testing program four times a year to assess student performance. The test, which was originally intended for the city’s lowest-performing schools, is now being used more widely by collaborative teaching teams, which include teachers, administrators, and counselors. Together they assess learning difficulties, target intervention, and chart the success of students.

University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor, Rich Halverson, sees a trend. “There’s a shift in what counts as a good teacher," he says, "The ability to collaborate, the ability to take information about student learning…that’s at a premium now.”


More time spent assessing students, less time actually helping them learn. It's a horrible system. Why don't we just cut out the instruction and test them everyday. We'll have a great idea of what they don't know. Granted, we won't have any time left to help them learn anything, but who cares as long as the test scores keep rolling in.

As for the "science" of this process, the statistical significance of most of these tests is nil. But on the "upside" we are killing lots of trees and employing a lot of consultants these days. It reminds me a little of the business world in the late eighties and early nineties. They too fell for all of this consultant-generated management garbage that promised great things and delivered nothing more than a large invoice.

The most imporatnt thing to remember in collecting data is that it's just a snapshot. If the idea is for trend analysis to determine progress then reason is prevailing. However, as the US has become more computer-bound adn the ability to collect data has become easier, the ability to wield the tool is eased.
Having worked in Quality Assurance in both manufacturing and call centers, followed by seeing how it's used in education, was a shock. Education is not a product delievery system, it's a developmental system. There's far too much focus on measurement of what can and ignoring what can't.
If a teacher is allowed the time to know the students and theri lernig styles, temprements, abilities (or disabilities) then (s)he can help the child make progress. Simple daily observation can provide enough clues...testing that is not integrated but applied on top is a time sink (black hole of absorption). If tests can be viewed and used as just another mental exercise. like daily work, and not as accountability or intra-school yardsticks...then tehy become tools of constuction rathern than vacuums of time or weapons against teachers.

In my opinion, data analysis empowers students and teachers.
Meaningful data analysis requires highly knowledgable teachers (in many areas; e.g., psychology, content area (s), statistics, test construction, and the pedagogy of special and general education), as well as the time to collaborate across disciplines. It is my belief that effective data analysis points to the need for teachers to teach no more than 4 hours per day. The other 4 hours need to be exclusively reserved for data analysis, communication, collaboration, and data driven lesson planning. Further, school systems need to invest in state-of-the-art technology and technology training. When this time and these resources are alloted, then I will know educators are truly recognized as the professionals we are, and students will progress accordingly.

One basic idea regarding assessment is that it provides the teacher with feedback as to what the students understand and what misconceptions they may have that need correcting. This type of formative assessment needs to go on every day in the classroom in such a way as to provide the teacher with data as to the extent of student understanding. Knowledge (having the facts) is not the same as understanding (being able to transfer knowledge into different situations). The objective test by its very nature measures knowledge rather than understanding. When schools use such tests to measure "progress," the effect may be to reduce teaching to mere drill on the facts. This is like keeping the students in Plato's cave rather than letting them into the sunlight where they will have to face a more uncomfortable, messy, and challenging reality.

A good teacher must use a variety of assessments including objective tests to aid in instruction. The time devoted to such assessments is not wasted because it helps focus instruction where it is needed. I agree with the person who called for a reduction of teaching time so that teachers can be more collaborative and have time to analyze the data they and others collect. It is all about determining trends for individual students and providing timely intervention as needed. This data can be communicated with parents and students. Students can be encouraged to self-assess and keep records of their own progress. Finally, schools should be involving their teachers in creating any school wide assessments to make sure that those assessments reflect what is actually taught based on the standards set.

The unexamined life is not worth living, according to Socrates. Teachers are constantly "testing" students, seeking feedback. Problem is that much of that informal feedback is incomplete. Just because one or two students show comprehension or skill does not mean that the entire class is capable. Regular feedback from all students is good practice, especially for reteaching and clarification of specific content.

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Recent Comments

  • Lyelle Palmer: The unexamined life is not worth living, according to Socrates. read more
  • Jack Scott: One basic idea regarding assessment is that it provides the read more
  • Kim, Teacher: In my opinion, data analysis empowers students and teachers. Disclaimer: read more
  • mrusso: The most imporatnt thing to remember in collecting data is read more
  • A Teacher: More time spent assessing students, less time actually helping them read more




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