Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Big Data, Test Data, Wrong Data

It's day two of testing and the day that I submitted my grades for the quarter so it's good a time to talk about data in schools. Big data is all the rage in education talk. My admins want data. State Ed wants data. And you bet your ass the DOE wants data the way crackheads want another hit. Testing is all about data. Mars needs women, schools gotta have data.

It doesn't matter that it is bad data.

Years ago, as a new teacher doing grading, I was unhappy with the numbers and letters. They didn't present a good picture of the kids' growth. There was more about each kid that I wanted to say. My school offered a quadruplicate form on which I could hand-write comments but filling out one for each kid would have broken my hand.

But I type really fast.

So I asked if I could type them. No. They had to be done on that exact form. Me being me, I made an exact replica of the form on my computer, typed narrative comments for every kid, printed them (on white, yellow, pink, and blue paper), and tried to hand them in.

You can't do this. They have to be on the form and glued together.

So I stapled them. A week later an administrator told me not to do it again.

Instead, I was told to use the "bubble comments." You know: "Student needs to apply themselves to the work." "Student is an asset in class." That sort of thing. It was so much more efficient.

Parents loved the comments I had typed. They said it was some of the best information they had ever gotten from the school. They wondered why I wasn't doing it. I shrugged.

Later, at a new school, it was policy to write comments for each kid. I was thrilled. This is how it's supposed to be done!

But then it changed. The comments went away. In came the bubbles. And again I was told that I could not write comments for each kid.

So it goes. I just bubbled comments for kids. They're meaningless, generic crap, unsuitable for, unworthy of, and an insult to children and parents. That's the way school works. That's the data we do. Kids are numbers in this system and we act as though that's just how it should be. Just as with the testing. We accept that the test will tell us something about our children.

My children aren't data points and to anyone who says otherwise, fuck you.

I wish my children's teachers were less burdened with test prep and tasked instead with accurately reporting my girls' progress to me.

The test will show that my daughters score well. I want to know something more interesting but schools serve big data rather than students and parents.

In a more perfect world, children would be treasures not numbers and teachers would write on.