The ‘D’ Word: The Overwhelming Effects of Data on Schools.

[Based on the state’s CCRPI scores] “Elementary schools had total scores ranging from a high of 81.3 to a low of 39.8 points.  The average elementary school score was a 64.2, while the state’s average elementary school score was 77.8,” a Henry County Schools press release states.

“40.2% of Atlanta Public Schools 3rd grade students are reading at or above the grade level target,” reports the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

If you’ve been in the education field for more than five minutes, you’ve heard of the word data probably more times than you can count.

Data-driven instruction.

Data drives instruction. Data wall.

What does the data say?

Be sure you lesson plans reflect your assessment data.

The list goes on!! With the onset of so many data pieces, there are both benefits and disadvantages of being so focused on data. For administrators and teachers in schools, we have to figure out a way to balance all the data. As a third grade teacher, my students took various assessments including MAP, Fountas and Pinnell, various common formative assessments and the Georgia Milestones Assessment. It was too much to manage. What assessments did I focus on most? How well do the assessments align with the standard? These were all questions that constantly ran through my mind.

In the metro area, Atlanta Public schools have developed the School Turnaround Model. Data compiled from the state’s CCRPI (College and Career Readiness Performance Index) was a primary factor in the development of the model. The data informed officials on schools that may have the potential to be closed and identify staff who made need interventions- including being terminated. Major decisions like these examples are being made from data that administrators and teachers often don’t have as much control over as many people think. In addition, the overwhelming amount of data is daunting- see examples from metro districts here and here.

Teachers are often bogged down with the various data sources available and faced with a limited amount of time to effectively analyze them. We know that the importance of data-driven instruction has been proven in many studies. The benefits of using data to form instructional practices is critical. There is no denying the truth, but what about looking beyond the data?

What about teaching the whole child? What about forming relationships with students? Assessments and data do not tell the whole story of a child and the extreme focus on data is having an adverse effect on the building of relationships.

Many students in the metro Atlanta area have home lives that are not ideal and need help with the social, emotional demands of school. When data based on standardized assessments take precedence over the specific needs of the students, we have failed. Too often, schools focus on teaching to assessments- content and test-taking strategies. When we only focus on numbers and identify children based on how they perform on an assessment, we miss the big picture. We forget that we are ultimately educating humans. Humans have needs. Our students often walk into our classrooms weighed down with issues beyond their control. We are obligated to ensure their physical and emotional needs are met before we can even consider teaching them. When we only focus on the data they produce, we’re doing them a disservice.

How can we find a balance between data-driven instruction and teaching the whole child? Here are some suggestions that can refocus schools:

Limit the focus

Districts and schools need to consider this important question: What are we focusing on? With so many assessments and initiatives, what is most important? If a school can determine their focus they can stop attempting to be the jack of all trades, and becoming masters of none. Allowing schools to focus and become experts in what their students need, will benefit the school and the community.

Focus on social emotional learning

One of the priorities of a good education should be to provide quality instruction and prepare students to be productive members of society. One major component that we’re missing is the need to teach students had to manage emotions in a healthy way. Social-emotional learning should be an integral part of a school’s curriculum.

Teach critical thinking skills

Throughout my years in the classroom and even talking to various people, I have realized the serious lack of critical thinking. Students desperately need to be taught to think through the different experiences they will face.

In all, data is an important piece of education, but it’s not the ONLY piece of information needed to make schools go from good to great.

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