Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Data Driven Aughts

by Tara Seale

I titled this post the Data Driven Aughts, first because educators and students alike have been driven by data accumulated from the NCLB assessments, and second because I wanted to use an Urban Dictionary word because I am hip like that. Aughts refers to the decade between 2000-2010. Even though teachers frequently complain about standardized testing, and I am a proponent that believes much of what we are testing and how we are administering the tests (Please - a paper and pencil?) isn't relevant in the 21st Century, I still pour over the data produced from the NCLB assessments. Maybe it is my competitive nature because I want to know that what I am doing in the classroom is really making a difference, maybe it is because I haven't seen a way to use data to indicate growth through project based learning portfolios, but I currently depend on standardized testing to determine if my student has moved, hopefully in an upwards direction, or unfortunately, maybe he or she has not moved at all.

In a recent blog post by Lisa Nielsen at the Innovative Educator titled 21st Century Educators don't say, "Hand it in." They say, "Publish it!" Lisa spells out why standardized tests are not reliable indicators of what students are capable of achieving. She advocates publishing student work for an authentic audience, and she also provides six ways for an educator to move from a classroom that hands it in to a classroom that publishes it. I highly recommend reading this post, and I completely agree that this is the best environment for students, but I also believe that standardized testing is not going away in this next decade either.

Data is even becoming more flashy. I recently checked out data on the NAEP website to discover that they were using the Google's data in motion gadget as a visual graphic to demonstrate how 4th grade and 8th grade math scores have changed between the years 2003 to 2009. As a literacy teacher, I quickly noticed that only the math scores are using the cool visual motion graphics, and most of the scores move in an upwardly direction. I wonder what direction the literacy scores move?

This is my real worry. There are many articles out there suggesting that students growing up in this Googlized Century cannot maintain focus long enough to read a full length novel or write a lengthy prose, I don't necessarily believe that (read my response to one of these article at Sharing the Solitary Self for a Greater Mind), but I do have some concerns that arose when I read an article about the NAEP data from Detroit.

Ryan Beene wrote an article at Crain's Detroits Business titled Detroit's public schools post worse scores on record in national assessment. At the fourth grade level, only 3 percent tested at the proficient level and at the 8th grade level, 4 percent tested at the proficient level. This is alarming. Even if we should be moving towards project based learning and a publish it instead of turn it in classroom, when less than 5 percent score proficient on a basic skills test (even though they did use a pencil in a texting world), this is alarming. Do I think the scores would have been different if students created a portfolio and took a digital assessment, probably, but there is still obviously some serious issues and deficiencies in this urban area. When I went to the NAEP website to see how the rest of urban America performed on this test, it was better than Detroit, but scores were still very low. The highest 8th grade reading score was
in Charlotte with 29 percent of students scoring proficient.
The blog comments at the bottom of the post in the Ryan Beene article list a variety of reasons why the Detroit scores were so low: lack of parenting, politics, economics, inadequate teaching, inadequate classroom equipment, etc... but what emerged for me as I read the comments is that there are numerous problems without a clear plan to fix it.

If nothing else, the data driven aughts have shown us that something needs to change, but I also see change. The NAEP will have a digital component in literacy by 2011, and we are moving in the direction of adding 21st Century equipment in all schools. I am not sure if this will all be enough, but I hope when I click back onto the NAEP website in 2020, I will be able to see the literacy scores set to motion, but of course, there will be another gadget by then, something even more visually dynamic, something not even invented yet, something that one of our students will create.

1 comment:

Dan Bruno said...


I absolutely agree about the need for change; however, I don't want to get caught up in the rhetoric of how that change will occur.

The truth is that we cannot turn to a project-based pedagogy as though that were something new. The project-based method was first introduced by William Heard Kilpatrick in the early 20th century. Something about the project-based method didn't last and it was quickly overtaken by more statistical, logical forms of assessment.

I think where we need to look for English education to change is in the publication realm. Helping students create texts inherently requires that they be familiar with good ones. As a teacher of AP English Language and Composition, the resurrgence of rhetoric and composition seems to be a good way to go. Students need to know text before they can write text. I believe that this meeting of text and reader in order to develop the writer is what English curricula will begin turning toward.