Data, data, and more data
by Stuart Singer, The Teacher Leader
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the data. It biases the judgment." – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It has been argued that teachers should not be responsible for exam results if they have minimal or no input into the process. When teachers lack opportunities for input into standardized testing procedures, frustration often results. But administrators and teachers do not always see eye to eye on this topic. This fact was reinforced in a correspondence I received from a regular reader of this blog.
“Last spring our SOL scores were dismal. After a few days of remediation by teachers who volunteered to help failing students, the retest scores improved. But because the scores were deemed ‘good enough,’ there was no follow up by the administration. They never looked at the reasons for the failures in the first place. Were the failing students from specific teachers; were they from a specific subgroup, gender, etc.?
I don’t understand why we aren’t studying the results? Why aren’t we using the teachers who were successful to work with the (other) teachers? Won’t this problem occur again this year? I know there are poor teachers, but many good teachers have their hands tied when the administration does not want to listen to creative ideas that could improve our scores.”
Understanding the teacher’s view
This is only one of many examples where the administrative and teaching staffs do not share a mutual vision of accountability. Why might that be the case? Long before there were standardized tests, good teachers wanted to help students learn. It is the main reason why most teachers enter the profession. Of course, teachers want to have high test scores which will make them look good on their evaluations. But the importance of these scores pales in comparison to the greatest driving force for all excellent educators. Any classroom failure is a highly personal experience for a teacher. Each one has a name, a face, and a story. Clearly these individuals are far more than mere statistics and will cause teachers to spend endless hours of self-examination as to what they could have done better.
However, there is a strong sense that in many schools there is a disconnect between this view and the one of the administrative team. Issues that are critical to teachers may be considered simply as a set of boxes to be checked off on yet another official form. The mindset seems to be that if the results are good enough, we need not examine any issues that may be lurking just below the surface. Why waste time fixing something that, based on a superficial inspection, is not totally broken?
Focusing on the individual
Total school pass rates on barrier exams do not give a complete or an accurate appraisal of what is actually occurring within a student body. An overall pass rate of 80% may satisfy some arbitrary requirement created at a meeting involving people who have never stood in front of a classroom. But it does not explain why one of every five students did not succeed. It does not put faces to those 20%, nor does it discuss their now imperiled futures. It does not identify at-risk student populations, define educational problems, or find potential solutions. However, as described by my reader, it may empower some people to believe that a task has been accomplished and it is time to move on. The failure to explore all data to find important answers is a disservice to both students and teachers.