From the Principal's Office: Data-Driven Decision Making Usually Means “Test-Score Driven Decision-Making"

6/27/2013 12:00:00 AM
I received another one of those “Data-Driven Decision-Making Workshop” email advertisements the other day. I usually receive several of those during the course of a week. It’s as if someone out there has drawn the conclusion that I do not make decisions based on data, so I am in need of more training in this area.

So what is it that most of these workshops offer? They should be entitled, “Test-Score Driven Decision-Making” because that’s what most of them are really about. They are about using test scores to drive all school improvement activities. They're most often about not moving a muscle until you've consulted the numbers. Those who push making decisions based on test scores alone, elevate them to "sacred" status because it is somehow seen as "objective" and above reproach. Their true "objectivity" is certainly always debatable, but test scores are clearly not all the data we have at our disposal as school leaders. I really can’t help but resent the fact that these individuals actually think the decisions I make as an administrator aren't data-driven. I submit that every decision I make as principal is data-driven, otherwise I would be leading a school by the old proverbial “seat of my pants.” But perhaps the data I use isn't "sacred" enough to be considered data by the data-purists.

So what do I mean when I say my decision-making is always data-driven? It means that every single time I make a decision, I use data. When I am staring at each and every decision-point, I always begin the process by gathering data. For example, if I notice a student is failing multiple subjects, I have used data (grades) to determine that a student is in trouble. I might then call that student in my office and ask questions to gather additional data. "Why are you struggling in Algebra I?" I might ask. Or, "Is there something that’s keeping you from being successful in biology?" The answers to these questions are data. I would add that this kind of data allows me to make much better inferences regarding a student’s classroom learning and what to do about it than the test scores alone would do.

The problem with the term “data-driven decision-making" is that, most of the time, people most often always mean “just test scores.” They wall off a whole world of data as irrelevant because it isn't “sufficiently objective.” It’s almost as if speaking to a teacher to get their impression of a student’s performance is somehow tainted because it isn't numerical or something. Don’t get me wrong. I do see test scores as useful. They can tell us a bit of what we need to know about a student’s learning. What they do not tell us is the whole picture. For example, a student who repeatedly gets poor test scores in reading could allow us to draw any number of inferences about the reasons for their performance. Those might be:
  • They have had bad teachers in former years.
  • The school they attend is more or less a war zone rather than a school.
  • They didn't have breakfast. In fact, perhaps they are homeless.
  • They didn't get any sleep the night before the test.
  • They hate the subject being tested.
Any number of inferences based on those scores may be valid, but I can't immediately jump to the conclusion that his score or the class's test scores are poor because the teacher is a bad teacher. It’s only when I investigate further that I can make any of these inferences valid. When we check with the parents and teachers, we might discover that the real problem is that the child can’t see, and is in need of glasses.

Making decisions entirely based on test scores alone is educational malpractice; there's simply no other way to state it. Data-Driven decision making can consider test scores, but it should also include that qualitative stuff that drives data purists nuts. But then, those people don't live in a real world anyway.

The point of today’s post isn't to create excuses for bad test scores. The point is to make clear that “data-driven decision-making” should never, ever be just about test scores. Those pushing “promotion-based-on-test-score” schemes for students” and “teacher-evaluations-based-on-test score” schemes would do well to remember that our best decisions about the welfare of the kids, and teachers, in our schools are not based on the latest end of grade tests or latest SAT scores. The best decisions we make might glance at these scores, but are based on data that is much closer to what the student needs are. Our best decisions are made when we take considerable time to investigate and gather much more than numbers on a spreadsheet. 

So, in order to keep from having to read any more these "data-driven workshop emails, I have set up a Gmail filter to dump them into my trash folder immediately. The whole idea that any one in education could make decisions without data is just plain ludicrous.

cross posted at the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com

J. Robinson has decades of experience as a K12 Principal, Teacher, and Technology Advocate. Read more at The 21st Century Principal.

comments powered by Disqus
Tweets
Photo GalleriesView All Galleries >
Acer C720-2844 Chromebook

(www.acer.com) The Acer C720-2844 Chromebook model delivers speedy performance, a quick boot time of seven seconds, and a matte anti-glare display tha...

Britannica ImageQuest

(www.britannica.com) Britannica Digital Learning has upgraded ImageQuest, a resource for schools and libraries that provides nearly three million rig...

ClassFlow

(www.classflow.com) Promethean has released ClassFlow, a free, all-in-one, cloud-based teaching tool that lets teachers create and deliver interactive...

Adobe Voice

(www.adobe.com) Adobe has released Adobe Voice, an animated video app for the iPad that lets users create and share video stories. The app incorporate...

DeskBoard

(www.boxlight.com) The BOXLIGHT DeskBoard mobile cart adjusts both height and tilt for the P8 ultra short throw interactive projector on a white surfa...

Core 36M

(www.bretford.com) Bretford has introduced Core 36M, a 36-unit charging cart that is optimized for Chromebooks but which also supports most tablets, l...

Edmentum Sensei

(www.edmentum.com) Edmentum Sensei is a mobile optimized solution that helps administrators visualize and track overall school, teacher, and student p...

HMH Player

(www.hmhco.com) HMH has released HMH Player, a new native app for iOS and Google Chrome that streamlines the learning experience for improved digital ...

Juice Power System

(www.bretford.com) Bretford has unveiled an easy-to-use modular power system with exchangeable power components. The Juice Power System uses unique &#...

LightSail

(www.lightsailed.com) LightSail Education has announced a literacy accelerator that combines books with in-text embedded assessments and real-time dat...

myON

(www.myon.com) myON has expanded its digital library to include a set of literacy tools to further personalize the reading experience for students whi...

Nervanix Clarity

(www.nervanix.com) Nervanix has released Clarity, an application that monitors student attention levels as they study and guides them to revisit conce...

MathBall

(www.robotslab.com) RobotsLAB has introduced MathBall, a smart sensor basketball and tablet system that offers curricula in algebra, pre-calculus, phy...

MobileAsset.EDU

(www.waspbarcode.com) Wasp Barcode’s MobileAsset.EDU solutions include everything administrators need to account for their assets, from software...

OpenEd Assessment Creation Tool

(www.opened.io) OpenEd has announced a free tool that lets teachers easily create assessments with the question types required by Common Core standard...

Panasonic TH-80LFB70U

(www.panasonic.com) Panasonic’s TH-80LFB70U interactive LED display features high-speed, multi-touch, interactive capabilities to promote partic...

penveu interactive display system

(www.penveu.com) The penveu interactive display system is a handheld device that turns projectors and large screen displays into interactive whiteboar...

PresentationPro

(www.califone.com) Califone has updated its PresentationPro speaker. The PA310 readily connects with computers, LCD projectors, mobile devices, intera...

PowerSync+ Mobile Companion App

(www.bretford.com) Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has announced the availability of the companion app for its PowerSync+ enabled charge and sync produc...

PureCharge Carts and Stations for iPad

(www.bretford.com) Bretford Manufacturing, Inc. has debuted the PureCharge family of iPad and iPad mini charging carts and stations. By offering pre-i...

ProQuest Research Companion

(www.proquest.com) ProQuest’s new information literacy product, Research Companion, offers videos that guide users through the research process,...

Sphere2 & Class Send Student Engagement Software Platform

(www.averusa.com) AVer Information has developed a Student Engagement platform, providing teachers and students with the tools to transmit document ca...

TabChargeCT2

(www.averusa.com) AVer has released the TabChargeCT2 charge cart solution, which can hold up to 40 Chromebooks, iPads, Android or Windows tablets, lap...

VoiceLift with Instant Alert and Emergency Video Monitoring

(www.extron.com) The Instant Alert function of the Extron VoiceLift Microphone, combined with a PoleVault, WallVault, or PlenumVault classroom AV sys...

SMART Board 6065

(www.smarttech.com) The SMART Board 6065 is an ultra HD, 4K interactive flat panel that offers collaborative capabilities while ensuring lessons run s...

Gaggle Unity Partner Program

(www.gaggle.net) The new Gaggle Unity Partner Program provides free data integration services for all educational technology vendors. Through the Gagg...

Waterford Early Learning, Reading, Math & Science

(www.waterford.org) Waterford Early Learning Cloud can be used at home or to supplement lessons in classrooms. It can also be used for individual adap...

NetSupport School

(www.netsupportschool.com) The latest version of NetSupport School allows teachers to monitor and collaborate with any mix of technology. An enhanced ...

Camtasia

(www.techsmith.com/camtasia) TechSmith’s Camtasia gives teachers the tools to record lessons, create videos, and engage their audiences. Educato...

Panasonic 3E

(www.panasonic.com) Intel has teamed up with Panasonic to announce the Panasonic 3E, which uses the Intel Education 2-in-1 reference design. Designed ...