Data-driven. It’s a favorite buzzword among educators. In fact, boldly declaring your school or district to be data driven is meant to convey the seriousness of your approach to education. For those reading the term as part of a school’s motto, the words are intended as a statement of that school’s commitment to educational excellence. Similarly, sprinkling your conversation with the term among other educators becomes a way of demonstrating your educational savvy. But here’s the thing: data doesn’t tell you about the most important elements of your students.
Data doesn’t tell you how hard a student works, how many hours they spend figuring out challenging material, how much they care about their academic achievement. Likewise, data doesn’t tell you about a student’s caring heart, their commitment to the tasks they undertake, their dependability, their kindness or their integrity. In short, data tell you nothing about who the whole student really is but rather focuses on a small segment of their academic output to the exclusion of everything else. That’s neither a fair nor an accurate assessment, regardless of what the data indicates.
This is not to say that data has no value. Using it to determine students’ academic aptitude, for instance, enables teachers to discover their students’ strengths and weaknesses. That’s a good thing—particularly when the data becomes the basis for planning lessons centered on students’ needs. And that’s the point: Data should be used to help students, not produce bragging rights for a school or district. And certainly not to the detriment of students.
Instead, data can just as easily be used to skewer students, emphasizing their inabilities, highlighting their disqualification for the academic success they so ardently seek. Scores not high enough? Well, then forget about placement in an advanced class or having the opportunity to participate in elite academic programs and teams. Data can be the be-all and end-all of students’ academic lives.
The use of data as a measuring stick can also provoke anxiety in students. When standardized test scores, for example, become the determining factor for students’ educational future, without regard for progress, effort or other measures of aptitude, both the students and the school lose. In such instances, data, wielded as a weapon, bludgeons students, often encouraging them to surrender academically as achievement seems unattainable.
Educational buzzwords, along with the accompanying practices, will come and go. And the focus on data is no exception. However, in the meantime, let’s be student driven. need to Creating classrooms driven by students’ academic needs and interests, educators can renounce being driven solely by the implications of data. Students’ academic lives depend on this. And on us.