Participatory Data-System Design Is Limiting

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To the Editor:

Brad C. Phillips and Jay J. Pfeiffer ("Dear Data, Please Make Yourself More Useful," Commentary, May 23, 2012) are right: Most current efforts to have data drive meaningful school improvement fall short. They point out the advantages of involving teachers, administrators, students, and parents in discussions about what indicators of student progress are important to examine and in what format.

Our 10 years of experience doing this work reveals risks in this approach as well. This process can be very slow and tedious, technical, and political. We have seen the time and effort this bottom-up process takes, frustrating participants and leading to less-than-optimal results.

Furthermore, each "consumer group" has a partial picture, and those pictures don't necessarily capture what is most important to know—either about student progress or what contributes most powerfully to it. For example, to make indicators of student progress move, information is needed on classroom practices, the quality of leadership support, and students' learning experiences. This deeper level of information rarely shows up on data dashboards resulting from consumer or externally driven design processes.

Educators, community members, and students deserve to see feasible, research-based options for data systems they can then adapt to address multiple consumers' preferences. Such a supportive and research-guided approach should help data-driven reform deliver better results.

James P. Connell
Institute for Research and Reform in Education
Toms River, N.J.

Vol. 31, Issue 36, Pages 26-27

Published in Print: July 18, 2012, as Participatory Data-System Design Is Limiting
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