Below is a slightly longer version of my letter to the Denver Post that appeared this month. I wrote it in response to a guest commentary written by Mark Fermanich, who argued, among other things, that rather than more funding, schools need more data and more training in data analysis in order to improve. Not so according to most teachers I know, so here’s my response:
Years ago, Seinfeld gave us the phrase “yada, yada, yada” to indicate inconsequential blather. Today’s schools could easily substitute the phrase “data, data, data” much to the same effect. Contrary to Mark Fermanich’s recent column claiming that schools don’t do much with data, teachers are awash in it, CSAP data, mostly. This data is used to reduce, rate, and sort, that is to express in numerical terms students’ proficiency at doing something, even complex processes that involve no numbers at all, like reading and writing.
Data is also used to determine grades schools should get on the state’s annual report cards, and then to compare those schools with the most resources to those with the least, all to perpetuate the illusion that students are on a level playing ground. Now with the passage of SB191, even teachers’ job security will be correlated to student test scores.
Generating and analyzing all this data imposes enormous costs on students and teachers in terms of time and energy and on the state in terms of money. Imagine what might happen if even a fraction of the resources spent on the back end of schooling—assessment—were reallocated to the front end of schooling—the improvement of teaching and learning.
I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t hold schools accountable for student learning. Of course we should, and test data is one way to do that. But we should also devote resources to creating high-quality instructional materials, enhancing learning experiences for kids, and providing worthwhile professional development for teachers.
If we used our education dollars for that, all the data, data, data would take care of itself.