Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Data is not the savior of education

Standardized tests will not save American education.

It's not that I don't need data to help me make decisions. It's just that the data I receive from standardized tests does not give me a complete picture of whether or not my students are learning.

Don't get me wrong. Data is important.

I need data to analyze how well the students who sit in my classrooms are learning. I need data to measure if students are mastering the standards.

I need data so that I can figure out how I can help a student learn what they need to know.

I need data to analyze if my teachers are doing a good job. How can I tell if a student is really benefiting from a teacher's instruction unless I can measure the impact that teacher is having on her students?

Without data I would not be able to tell if a student is learning and a teacher is doing their job.

But data alone is not what I need. In fact, if I rely only on the data from standardized tests I will have a distorted view of my students and my teachers.

Standardized data cannot capture what happens in a classroom. Learning is about engaging ideas. Learning is passion, following ideas, understanding the why.

I want students who are engaged, who care about what they are learning, who understand not just the information but why it is important.

I want students who will dig for answers. I want students who don't just memorize information but who wrestle with ideas. I want students who grow excited about what they are learning and lose themselves in learning. 

No standardized test can measure that.

Tests are also artificial. They measure a very narrow slice of learning and certainly do not capture the breadth and depth of all that students know and care about.

There has been a lot of conversation about the value of our American testing program. Many would argue that our current form of standardized testing is not very good.  (See this article.)  Some parents are going so far as to opt students out of testing. (Here - #myoptoutletter, here)

But I believe that parents deserve to know if a student is making progress. I believe that taxpayers deserve to know if the investment that they are making in schools is really making a difference.

Standardized tests give us one perspective.

But we have come to rely on them as the only arbitrator in learning. We have come to see standardized tests as the only true measure of whether or not a student has learned anything.

And that is just not the case.

The question is how can we balance our need to know if students are learning and teachers are making an impact with our understanding that standardized assessments are not completely or wholly accurate reflections of all that students know?

It is a delicate balance.

But we have to figure out. We have to get the answer right.


  1. Agreed. I thought the information presented in the book Outliers about education was interesting.

  2. I agree that there is too much emphasis on these standardized tests. I am the parent of student who works very hard in school to get A's and B's but he does not test well on these standardized test. So it is very discouraging for him to receive standardized test scores that categorize him as a "D" student.

  3. Let's continue to encourage our children to "want to learn" rather than just ace a standardized test format to get into a certain college. Isn't that what will really help that generation, and all of us? We need them to want to do it because they are motivated to learn, not just go through the motions.

  4. I also have a student that does not "test well" both in the classroom and on the standardized testing. I personally feel that Novi school district does not do an adequate job of holding their teachers accountable for the success of their students. Every year ( I've been in this district for 7 years) I'm having to pay for tutoring services for my student because the teachers are not available to students. There is not enough time for them to give to the large number of students that need additional help. That should be an indication in itself. I think the students should be given the opportunity to give their opinion on how well they think their teachers are doing.

    1. The excessive and unfunded/underfunded mandates by our state strained us. Is it possible that may have played a larger role for your student? Your indication certainly points me in that direction. In addition, where we are, the curriculum wasn't even written when we had to choose to adopt it or not. We were well into the school year before we could view the next learning objective section. The support materials and training were insufficient. The curriculum was a "free tool" from the state. Not only did we not have the adequate time or ability to review the curriculum contents--we were all struggling with budgets (town, village, and the school board). Had the district tossed aside a "free" curriculum without even trying it and purchased all new materials aligned with the standards, I'm pretty sure the taxpayers wouldn't have been too happy. Our teachers also lacked the professional development when they began using them and were subjected to new accountability measures! Our students were tested on the standards that had not even been fully implemented. Our teachers were out of the classroom trying to learn about their new evaluation system, the standardized testing procedures, and multiple meetings and training, using new methods on scoring students' work (etc.).