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On The Worship of Data

Posted 06-10-2010 at 06:43 AM by BigwigRabbit

There is a new deity within education. Its name is Data. Now this data that is being worshiped (mostly by administrators and bureaucrats) is electronic, for the most part. It is often generated by computer based programs such as those offered by Renaissance Learning. <!--break-->

I wonder how many of those that worship at the altar of Data have actually looked closely at the questions the student's are asked in these assessments. I wonder if certain facts have been considered before passing judgment on a student based on the results of these tests.

I have not seen a single computer based reading test that truly and accurately tests comprehension. Accelerated Reader tests the recall of minutiae. I took an AR test for Charlotte's Web, a book I am quite familiar with. There was a question on AR about why Avery was sent to bed early with no dinner. This never occurs in the story.

Multiple choice tests have two inherent biases. The first is correct answer bias. A good or lucky guess registers as a correct answer. I had an illiterate fourth grade student that would score 40% on multiple choice tests. The second bias is incorrect answer bias. A student who accidentally marks or clicks on the incorrect choice gets the answer wrong. This happens without the student even knowing they clicked incorrectly.

My final point is that many students get very nervous taking tests. Good students slow down to make certain they get the correct answer. Some of these electronic tests have a time component that skews a good student's score way down. They can also skew a poor (but lucky guessing) student's score up.

The biggest problem with the worship of Data is that teacher professional judgment is being disregarded. That's quite bothersome to me.
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  1. Old Comment
    klarabelle's Avatar
    The need for data drives me nuts! I am a poor test taker, but give me a research based project and I am a wiz. It is sad what education has become. The be all to end all is electronic data, a big money maker for companies. Too bad teachers that know the ins and outs of their students are not in as high regard as a machine. I think it has something to do with holding people accountable, and those would be teachers, not parents. Oh well, I am waiting for the swing and will be happy to say good bye to data and hello commonsense. Good Blog thoughts.
    Posted 06-10-2010 at 09:47 AM by klarabelle klarabelle is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Hifiman's Avatar

    The issue of data goes far beyond that

    Multiple choice tests on Renaissance scratches only the microscopic surface of the real issue of data. This is a subject I written about on PT many, many times.

    I get what you're saying about multiple choice tests. They're not perfect by any means, but other methods of testing bring in a huge subjective component that skew the data into meaninglessness. Things become particularly frustrating with AR and AM because at least in the district I was in, the program was never used in a way that supported students. It was a punitive measure against teachers. Eventually, as in everything else in education these days, you have to play the game. And a game it is. Too many kids who can barely read can pass an AR test. AR pushes quantity over quality and turns reading into a process, not a love or enjoyment. And don't get me started on AM. That is the single most useless program ever created.

    The real problem with data in education is that no one knows what to do with it. Data collection for tracking and trending was something I did in another occupation for many years. I won't even get into the area of collecting meaningful data. That's a huge discussion on it's own. Let's assume for a moment that schools do collect meaningful data. They actually do. At least some of it. The real issue is what to do with that interpretation of data.

    One of my biggest beefs with districts is they don't train any teachers how to truly look at data in any meaningful way. But I get it. The people at the top don't have any real idea how to analyze it either. It's sad because districts spend huge amounts of money on various testing and procedures to collect data, but it's money truly wasted when no one has the first clue what to do with it. Sometimes it seems the only real reason for data collection in their minds is not to help students achieve, but rather for use as punitive measures to "encourage" teachers. Unfortunately this only serves to create an atmosphere of fear, which forces many teachers to get "creative" with their students and classroom practices.

    What districts need to do is make the data the valuable tool it can be, but it takes work and commitment from the top - down. Currently what we have are districts scrambling to find something that works. If it doesn't they scrap it and throw more money at something else. They keep doing this and wasting lots of money in the process. The end result is frustration by everyone, including students. If something is successful, good. Why was it successful? Does it work in other school sites? No? Why? Was something new purchased and implemented, yet failed? Why? Can it be tweaked? Were people properly trained and implementing? I could go on and on for days on all the ways data is not nearly utilized. It frustrates me no end.
    Posted 06-10-2010 at 03:17 PM by Hifiman Hifiman is offline
  3. Old Comment
    cincyteacher's Avatar
    Without going into a long rant, a great summer read for every teacher should be The Death and Life of the American Public School by Diane Ravitch. It came out right around testing time for me and it really helped me understand the "why's" for all of the b---s---- we have to do and deal with as teachers. No one story is unique, we are all singing the same song, but haven't enough power or control to change the lyrics to this very sad song.
    Posted 06-11-2010 at 12:13 PM by cincyteacher cincyteacher is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Carolynn's Avatar


    I agree with part of what Hifiman said,
    What districts need to do is make the data the valuable tool it can be, but it takes work and commitment from the top - down.
    I think data is valuable...well, most of it anyway. However, using it to build data walls is the stupidest use of data I've ever seen. Using it to scare kids and to intimidate teachers is unbelievable. Collecting it and not using it is also unbelievable. I don't think however that it is top - down. I think it needs to be from the bottom up. We, as educators need to learn how to utilize data effectively to the benefit of our kids and ourselves as the administrators don't get it. We, as educators need to embrace data and use it to our advantage. I think it's time that we turn the tables. Teachers have much more power than they realize...I truly believe this. I think we don't use our power to move ourselves forward because we are so busy trying to survive the daily "stuff" that administration creates. What will it take to make it happen? I'm not sure. I'm still thinking about it. Any ideas out there?
    Posted 06-11-2010 at 02:02 PM by Carolynn Carolynn is offline
  5. Old Comment
    slg's Avatar


    I feel data should be recognized as only one piece of the puzzle picture when we look at student's work. The other two--arguably EQUALLY as important--are classroom work and teacher observation. I have many students who do well in one or two of those three pieces, but not so well in the third. The truth about the kind of learner the student is is found in the triangulation of the three components. Data is currently overemphasized when it is only one of our tools.
    Posted 06-12-2010 at 05:48 AM by slg slg is offline
  6. Old Comment
    ajmm115's Avatar

    too long

    In addition to all your stated (and valid) reasons, the length of tests is usually way too long. Students get tired of simply reading through a thru e, and start guessing. This is especially true with a battery of tests given one after the other.

    Just for fun, the day before a state test, I put #1 thru #10 on the board, each with a choice of a, b, c, d, e, NO QUESTION or ANSWERs - just the numbers and letters. Then had students write an answer. Needless to say, most got about 3 or 4 correct, but a couple got 9 and one got 10!!! These were all at-risk students and my original point was to teach them that when they only had a minute left, to NOT leave any answers unmarked.

    There does truly need to be some assessment system, but not these LONG, poorly designed questions. And - BIGWIG - I too had a similar experience. The English test had a poem excerpt. I knew the full thing by heart. It asked questions using only the excerpt, one of which was impossible without the remaining lines, and another had NO correct answer. I wrote it down and wanted to mail it to the Testing authorities but the principal freaked out at the thought. AJ
    Posted 06-12-2010 at 05:01 PM by ajmm115 ajmm115 is offline
  7. Old Comment
    musicbug's Avatar

    Data isn't evil in and of itself

    The admin and pols got to and since it is easy to proclaim failure of success. I'm tired of making the numbers move on the tests of the lower 25% by testing these over tested kids more . Then in 5 years they will tell me everything I did was wrong. Soo done with Data and all of his friends.
    Posted 06-15-2010 at 03:25 PM by musicbug musicbug is offline

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