School & District Management Opinion

Thinking About Ed. Data From the Student’s Perspective

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — June 12, 2015 4 min read
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(The fourth in a series about educational accountability systems and data systems. Others in the series here, here, and here.)

The beginning post in this series asked whether educational data should be a Fitbit or a post mortem: something that provides the end user with valuable current information or something that provides a summary of a life past. States and school districts need summaries of past performance for accountability purposes. But teachers and students need frequent feedback and different information.

There are twin issues here. Students need different, customized data, and they need direct access. Unless data systems are designed to produce data for students, who are the real workers in the education system, the cycle of using data to make schooling better will always have to be mediated by adults.

Recognizing that students are the real workers in the education system is the key to moving education reform past the assumption that just getting adults to work harder will solve the problem. We need to design and build feedback that is directly assessable to students and which motivates them. Students are capable of much more self-monitoring than we think, provided that they are motivated to do so.

To be motivators, the state’s eight priorities must become the student’s ambitions. State and school data systems need to speak to students. Data systems need to provide timely feedback, incremental rewards, and helpful tutoring. There are ways to provide them, as these examples illustrate:

Student-Level Dashboards

Technologists think of smart phones as ideal student feedback devices. More than half of high school students have them. Latino students, in particular, are becoming very tech savvy, researchers say. Smart phones can be connected to classroom management systems, and they also become a way schools can communicate to parents, often in more than one language. Their use as display devices for student dashboards will certainly grow .

But student dashboards don’t have to use phones or any other electronic device. A straightforward checklist helps transfer learning goals from adults to students. At the Avalon School in St. Paul, MN, for example, students are given a standard calendar notebook of the kind common for a century: assignments, deadlines, notes, and that kind of thing. And the school has added the Minnesota graduation requirements broken down in some detail.

At Avalon, these are particularly important because a student earns graduation through completing projects that he or she devises, and students must be able to design projects that meet state requirements. The California college-and-career readiness standards could be similarly transmitted to students using this very low tech approach. Computers and smart phone could enhance the process, but the technique does not require them.

Badges and Microcredentials

Badges and other forms of small credentials also provide feedback beginning, I suppose, with the (-: face on a student’s paper. The use of badges to signify significant achievement is not new or novel. Boy and girl scouts have used them for over a century. But digital revolution has made them potentially important to public schooling. As this report from Digital Promise shows, they can be used to support deeper learning in classrooms. (The badges work for both teachers and students.) And as the Los Angeles Summer of Learning illustrated, they can connected out-of-school experience to a student’s learning record. Badges also have more revolutionary potential as a mechanism to level the curriculum creation playing field and to disconnect measured achievement from seat time.

Feedback Through Performance Assignments

However, badges and checklists are still one step removed from actual student learning, and the best feedback occurs when it is embedded in the work students undertake. “We want to pay attention to the things that matter,” said Jon Snyder, executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). He and Elizabeth Stosich, a SCOPE policy fellow (pictured at left), talked with me about dashboards and achievement indicators a few weeks ago.

“We want early indicators,” Stosich, said, and in a recent post on the EdWeek.org ‘Learning Deeply’ blog, she described the efforts of the Innovation Lab Network’s efforts to create performance tasks and assessments that promote critical thinking, inquiry, communication, and collaboration. The lab’s Performance Assessment Resource Bank, which launches this summer, will include activities that engage students in substantive tasks, such as researching and developing mathematical models to write an article on the rising cost of college tuition.

As data systems move from the capitol to the classroom, they need to take on more Fitbit characteristics. Data that students get need to be timely, actionable, and motivating. The design task for state officials is to backward map what students need into the eight state priorities. If they can do this, schooling in California will more likely create cycles of continuous improvement.

(Photo: CTK)

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