This weekend I finished reading Diane Ravitch’s excellent new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” I highly commend this book to anyone interested in the topic of education reform. I agree with much of what Ravitch writes, and made extensive notes as well as annotations in my paper copy of her book as I read it. I’ll be sharing quotations and excerpts in the weeks ahead. This evening I’d like to share the following paragraph from page 228 of the book, in the chapter, “Lessons Learned.” We hear a great deal in our schools and in educational technology circles about “data driven decision making.” On this subject Ravitch writes:
Our schools cannot be improved by blind worship of data. Data are only as good as the measures used to create the numbers and as good as the underlying activities. If the measures are shoddy, then the data will be shoddy. If the data reflect mainly the amount of time invested in test-preparation activities, then the data are worthless. If the data are based on dumbed-down state tests, then the data are meaningless. A good accountability system, whether for schools, teachers, or students, must include a variety of measures, not only test scores. To use a phrase I first heard from educator Deborah Meier, our schools should be “data informed,” not “data-driven.”
In many of our public schools and in state departments of education today, “blind worship of data” IS the order of the day. This is wrong, and is a reality which must change. In many ways, Ravitch paints a clear picture in her book of the immoral political and educational culture in which we live today. At the behest of politicians, educators nationwide have been told to view students as statistics, not as individuals, and to view the purpose of the educational enterprise as raising test scores rather than developing capable minds. We know as parents and educators that we need our schools to do FAR more than simply teach students the basics of literacy and numeracy. Yet astonishingly, we have tolerated a political culture which places exclusive emphasis on those two content areas to the exclusion of all others. This is a policy which is clearly and dramatically mistaken, and it is up to us to change it.
The next time someone says to you, in a meeting or in conversation, “We need to do this to support data-driven decision making,” I challenge you to challenge them. Respond by saying, “We need to be data informed, but NOT data driven.” Then discuss what this means.
Tests can provide a window into learning, understanding, and retention, but that window is ALWAYS incomplete. We need to stop pretending like we work, as educators, to simply serve data and the masters of data. We don’t and must not act as if we do. We work with children and for children for far more than to simply raise test scores in reading and math.
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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