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I was not surprised by the amount of people, both teachers and administrators, who read my discussion and then commented through my website. But I was surprised by the responses, which ranged from weak agreements to those questioning which “side of the fence” I sit on. I sit firmly on all "three" sides of the student, teacher and administrator fence. If not, how will we ever move forward?
We had a family reunion last night and I had the chance to speak with relatives who work in various school districts. Each one told me how they were doing their “own thing” to advance student learning. They were each satisfied that they had found “the answer” to solving everything from English to math illiteracy. I spoke with them about using data to drive instruction, decision making, goal setting, time management and prioritization. When I mentioned this, they each told me how unfair it was that administrators are basing too much on the new parameters of “data” and how unfair it is to be evaluated on such “data” and how there is much more to schools than just “data.” I thought it was unfair they were using the word “unfair” so much.
My cousin told me how the hallways in her school remain active after the second bell. I asked her what they do about it. She said, “What can they do? As long as they get into class, even a minute or two late, most teachers are happy that they get there at all.” “Do they mark when a student is late?” I asked. To which she responded, “Of course! Doesn’t everyone?” I was puzzled and asked, “Well, if they are marking lateness, and the students are still late, where is that lateness data ‘disappearing’ to? And why are they documenting this data in the first place if they are going to resign themselves to lateness being just a fact of life in their school?” She was infuriated by this. “What do you want them to do?” she shot back. I explained that every time we document a change in student status (lateness, unprepared, behavior, etc…) there needs to be a reason why we are accumulating such data. And, there needs to be some action taken to correct any such change (downward trend) in student status. I explained that this is but one particle of data that I believe needs to be looked at in a more “business” light.
As a doctor, if I were to have a patient come to my office late and say nothing about it, then I would be permitting that patient to arrive whenever he or she chooses. This would cause pandemonium in any smooth running office. One lateness always equals one call to a patient to find out where they are: on the way, stuck in traffic, when will they be here, are they coming, etc… If a student is late, the parent must be called. How many of us call each time a student is late? How many of us have had a student come late to class three times then call the parent on Friday and tell them of their child’s tardiness, only to have the parent rightly say, “Why didn’t you call the first time?” How many of us try to deal with these issues strictly “in house?” Can this work? Sometimes, but given our lateness stats, it is obvious that we can do better. But why are we not using this type of data analysis to our fullest advantage? And this is only one small piece of data that is rarely quantified and used as a means of goal setting, decision making as well as a statistical tool for increasing student production, as well as teacher skills and performance. Every piece of data we accumulate can be quantified, and used to help both teacher and student. Teachers just need to be shown how.
How many of these “pieces of data” are you using to demonstrate to a principal or assistant principal what you do when they come into your class to evaluate you? How effective would a graph representing each student lateness vs. each phone call home and the resulting direct proportion shown – demonstrating a decline in both – be for an administrator to see showing follow up on, and reduce, chronic student status? When I use this example, teachers often ask, “But what if the graph shows a direct proportion going upward? What if the student latenesses are increasing in spite of you calling home?” Well, that would show me (if I were an administrator) that you need to work on what you are saying when you call home. What are you telling the parent when you get them on the phone? Use the data to improve your skills. Don’t dismiss the results just because they don’t “fit into” what you think is, or should, be happening.
This is just one example of using data to our advantage. It is not always pretty, and it is not always perfect, but it is our data. Every other profession knows that without a comprehensive grasp of data management and statistical analysis of this data that progress, advancement and productivity is doomed. As a teacher or administrator, how do you feel about quantifying the data we have (data we currently quantify as well as data that is not being considered quantifiable) to advance student achievement and teacher satisfaction?
Dr. Michael Cubbin