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Here’s How to Fix a Haphazard Data-Driven Approach to Education

Reliance on data is increasing across all industries. Whether it’s a retail chain or an education company functioning in the k-12 or secondary level space, how we measure the outcome of learning, student performance, teacher prowess, and school performance is built on data-driven techniques. The course of action in education across many schools and colleges now is highly dependent on data. But is the data-driven approach to education, to measure the learning among students is the right approach?


Let’s delve a little deeper into this.

Education has undergone a radical transformation in the last decade. From instructive training, we have moved to online video classes. Today online teaching is more prominent. We have more online classes than ever before. What else has not changed is the way – teachers measure their outcome. Education leaders have, for far too many years, have championed the use of testing to measure results and drive the progress of students and schools.

American schools, for many years, have marked ‘data days’ on their weekly and monthly calendars. On which, they analyze data from the teacher-created tests, computer-adaptive tests, interim assessments, surveys, attendance, and behavior notes.

Data is important. However, the proliferation of data in the past years has increasingly less value to the system. Data –based answers lead to other data-related questions. Testing and experimentation lead to more analysis. The psychology of policymakers and leaders means that data comes in the way of actual learning. Drive for data, solves a real problem, but the need for testing and use of data has made the problem worse than cure.

The beginning of the data-driven approach to education

In 2001, the American education system adopted No Child Left Behind, important legislation that mandates annual testing and sets the motion for data-based decision making for schools.

Decisions at all levels of a school began to be driven by data. This approach became widespread and part of k-12 education throughout. Teachers began to set SMART goals and putting up data dashboards in their classrooms. Principals were mandated to set targets and back it up with hard evidence.

The new data-driven approach to education spread fast and deep. After a few days, many schools stopped non-test related activities for six days completely to focus on testing and checking the progress of students concerning national norms.

Schools spent the equivalent of a full day of teacher professional development teaching teachers how to give the tests and avoid the appearance of cheating. An assistant principal, along with an assessment manager, devoted the equivalent of almost two months to attending required training, creating testing plans, and completing forms and spreadsheets related to the state testing.

Schools spent a full day of teacher professional development, teaching teachers how to give the tests and avoid cheating. The assistant principal along with an assessment manager spent nearly 2 months attending training, create plans, complete forms, and spreadsheets related to testing.

While focusing on measurement, we moved away from a more reasonable question – are the students learning? Education leaders and policymakers expect too much data, over –test student learning to the detriment, and are lost in abundant numbers

The next step in education

Undoubtedly, data is useful. Education institutions are using a variety of data from student tests, teacher prowess, student performance, survey, and experience. Education leaders have come to rely on data a lot. However, the question – are the students learning? is still a question. And it can’t be addressed until we look at the results.

So what do we do?

A more straightforward approach to improve education is to change what we have control over the quality of teaching. Nearly every data-driven guide suggests addressing where the teaching gaps are. Many education companies are working toward improving the quality of education. Edvantic Inc, Lead School, K-12 Inc, are a few examples of education companies that are innovating education and working towards improving the quality of teaching across the world. Their ways differ a little, but the premise remains the same.

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