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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are Educators Data Driven to Death?

By Peter DeWitt — January 24, 2012 4 min read
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Data can tell educators and students where they have been successful and where they need help, but too much data can make those same educators lose focus of what they are supposed to be doing, which is educating students and creating a safe and nurturing environment.

Data is quickly creeping into the daily lives of teachers and administrators. Everywhere educators turn they are asked if they are making decisions based on data. As much as data is important to instruction, the more the word gets used, the more there is a chance that it will clumped into the junkyard of dirty words and acronyms like differentiated instruction, AIS, RTI, RTTT and the dreaded NCLB, which would be unfortunate.

If you turn on the news every political reporter is giving the data behind the recent political polls. Who is in the lead? Who is running a close second? Who is down and out? They talk as if the person in the lead today will be winning the election in the fall. A few months ago those who were winning by a large margin are now in last or have dropped out of the race. We seem to be obsessed with data.

Education is not any different than watching the political campaigns on television. Teachers and administrators are keeping data on every subject and behavior issue and they’re relentlessly progress monitoring their students on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to make sure that students are showing progress. However, will they be able to find the balance between progress monitoring and teaching?

We do that a lot in education. A good idea comes up and teachers and administrators jump on board with it because it will help their students. At some point during the process it becomes a rule, and then some teachers and administrators hate it at the same time others may love it. Progress monitoring has definitely become a blanket rule in many schools. They now find themselves enmeshed in data driven decision making, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Benefits of Data
There is no doubt that data is an important part of instruction. It provides teachers and administrators with important information about students. A proper progress monitoring tool such as curriculum based measures (CBM) can show growth that a student is making in the classroom. Students are supposed to show growth during the year, so having these tools is not only good for the students, its great information for the teachers.

As parents become more involved in their child’s progress, data can be used as a part of the parent-teacher conference, which can involve the student as well. Teachers, students and parents can discuss a child’s progress and also look at the places that need improvement. Most times data can be put on graphs, which provides a great visual to everyone dissecting the data.

In addition, data is great for administrators when looking at behavior issues in a school. Data provides administrators with information about student tardiness and absences. It can also be helpful when looking at the school climate and safety within a school because it provides the number of negative interactions between students such as verbal harassment and fights. When looked at from year to year administrators can see if their school is getting safer or if there was an increase in the number of incidents.

One more venue where data is important is in Academic Intervention Service (AIS) or the Committee of Special Education (CSE) meetings. It’s important to have good data for students involved with AIS or CSE and that data includes their strengths and weaknesses.

Things to Remember
From a practioners standpoint keeping data can be a full time job. As much as administrators are the ones keeping track and looking over the data, the teachers are typically the ones who are doing the work that provides the data. Making sure that they are not constantly keeping, scoring and analyzing data is important. It does not mean that data isn’t important; it just means that high quality teaching is more important.

In addition, high stakes testing counts as data as well. This will be used as data to show a student’s growth from year to year. In addition, in many states high stakes testing will be used to evaluate teachers and administrators, which is another use of data. Making sure that the data being used is both valid and reliable is one of the key issues in the conversations about evaluation.

It’s also really important to remember when looking at data that the student’s personality should not get lost in the numbers. In an effort to help students succeed, educators sometimes get obsessed with the numbers. Just because a student scores a 2 doesn’t mean they need to be labeled as a 2 on everything they do.

Not everything in education can be so scientific. It’s important to find a balance and not get caught up in the data all the time. Data can tell educators and students where they have been successful and where they need help, but too much data can make those same educators lose focus of what they are supposed to be doing, which is educating students and creating a safe and nurturing environment.

Questions to ponder:
• What do you do with data?

• How much time does it take to complete the data?

• Is the data valid?

• Is the data reliable?

• How do outside influences affect data?

• What professional development opportunities have been given to discuss how to properly use data?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.