Data, Data Everywhere At Times Too Much To Drink

October 09, 2017

I was visiting with a superintendent recently and showing him SchoolStatus and all that it could do for him and his district. I had just gotten into my pitch and he exclaimed, “Great! I have data running out my ears. The problem is putting it together and figuring out what to do with it! This is just what I need.” I was thinking, ‘Home run!’

The truth is that the amount of data we have or the ability we have to gather it is no longer the problem. The problems educators face today is how to assimilate it, how to interpret it, and how to extrapolate a way to meaningfully and usefully use the diagnostics and drive instruction as well as parent engagement from it.

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But do our programs today accurately measure everything we need them to? Education software programs generally fall into three categories. They are analytical, motivational, and instructional. However, it is quite a challenge to measure their effectiveness.

With all the effort we put into gathering data to help drive instruction, a lot of questions are asked, such as: Are we allowing too much focus to be put into technology driven instruction? Or, do the programs do a good job?

DATA + COMMUNICATION = STUDENT SUCCESS

I submit that as far as analytics most of the educational programs I have looked at are really good at measuring and evaluating a student’s knowledge base. However, to program computer software to effectively motivate or drive instruction may be much harder.

It may be an interesting challenge for a programmer to come up with motivating material or matter to keep a student engaged. Anyone who has worked with children for very long knows that all children are different and that there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all answer. Much care should be taken when selecting software with regard to this area.

The last type of educational software, instructional, can be particularly treacherous. It is very important not to lose the forest for the trees here. I have worked in a couple of school districts that have bought programs that have had beautiful foliage as you entered, but you got lost as soon as soon as you entered the forest. Meaning, there did seem to be a basic skill set that seemed logical and sequential in the beginning. Good right? But upon exiting the forest you might find yourself in Manhattan, when according to your district’s curriculum and pacing guide, you should have landed in Los Angeles. Oh sure, you learned along the way. But, did you meet the goals set out before the trip?

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Over the years, I have been a teacher, coach, special education director, and a superintendent. I have found that there is no shortage of software programs in our schools. I have seen good ones and I have seen some that schools have wasted a lot of money on. I think selecting and analyzing the correct programs is the key. I think that by using the data we have, learning from it, and making educational decisions from it, we can help our students to grow and help us as educators to grow too.

Like coaches and players, we must be students of the game. We must learn from our mistakes and from our successes. Our scoreboard is the data. It’s the data that we assimilate from the students and the scores from our state report cards. Unsuccessful coaches look at the scoreboard at the end of the game and say, “It is what it is. We lost again.” Successful coaches go in at halftime, look at the data, readjust, and play the second half with a new plan. Isn’t it great how often teachers and administrators get to take a time out, look at the data, and readjust?

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Terry Larabee is storyteller, father, datanerd, and most importantly, he is an educator. His career in the classroom and the district office demonstrate his commitment to student achievement.

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