Data doesn’t have to be a “four-letter word”


Jean is a teacher that puts in tons of
time. We call her our “Data Guru.” So whenever we have anything that needs to
be pulled apart number-wise, she pulls it apart for us. She researches what would
be the best method for us to pursue to try to see growth in those numbers. I
just recently read an article that referred to data as a “four-letter word”
in education. They said that time was the other “four-letter word.” And I can
understand that. As teachers, we feel like we don’t have enough time to get to all
the standards, make sure that our students have mastered all of the
grade-level standards, while making sure that they are developing as a whole
person and that all their social and emotional needs are met. And I think we
sometimes think, “Okay, during my off time, nights and weekends, do I want to be
taking home a bunch of sheets of numbers– of data–and looking at those? Or do I
want to be thinking about who the individual students are in my own class
and what needs they have and what choices I can make to help them with
their learning?” And I would argue that when a district, or a group of teachers,
gets a handle on what data they should use and how they’re going to use it to
help the students with their progress, then data can be used effectively and
efficiently to individualize instruction for each student. Also, when we think of
data, we think of numbers–quantitative data–but we also need to look at
qualitative data, which gives us information about what’s really going on
in a classroom, which helps us with our decision-making process.
Qualitative data are things you can explain in words about what’s going
on in a classroom or what’s going on with a student’s achievement. The
researcher Yong Zhao has recently written about “Side Effects in Education.”
And that goes very much along with both quantitative, but especially qualitative,
data. So let me give you an example: If we see a graph that is showing a student’s
progress going straight up during an intervention that we’re doing
in literacy, it looks like this intervention is working. Look at how well
the student is doing. But we need to look at the qualitative aspects as well. If we find out from the student and from the
teacher who’s teaching him that he hates that intervention, and now he hates
reading, then that intervention is not working, even though the quantitative aspects show that it is. We need to look at the whole picture and
not just how the student is achieving, but how she or he feels about
what they’re doing in school. So that’s how qualitative data, working with
quantitative data, can help us give a full picture of how a student is doing
in school.

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