Understanding data

Naplan testing begins today for students in years 3,5,7 and 9.  It’s good to see that schooling didn’t grind to a halt – life, learning and teaching does go on.

I was pleased to read Dr Judy Smeed’s comments in today’s Australian – finally a voice of reason in the whole Naplan/MySchool debate.

Dr Smeed, an educator at the Queensland University of Technology believes that the real disappointment of Naplan is that not enough teachers are taught how to analyse and use the results to improve their teaching.

According to Dr Smeed, QUT is the only university in Australia that trains  teachers to understand educational data.  This is a serious oversight of many teacher training institutions given what we know about the role of data/feedback in improving learning outcomes.

The fear around league tables is symptomatic of a simplistic understanding about educational data.  No-one is pointing the finger – what we need is rational debate and greater understanding of what the data is telling us about a particular student at a particular point in time.

Companies like Facebook and Google depend on user data – it allows them to understand their users and develop tools that are ‘personalised’ and ‘targeted’.

If Google et al are using data to continually improve their service for users – then isn’t this what contemporary schooling should be about?  ‘Targeted and personalised’ learning for every student.

And a final thought on this issue. Good teachers never teach to the test , as is so often claimed. Good teachers make sure that students understand what the test is but spend their precious time on making sure their students can think for themselves. They also use the data from such test to help inform their practice. To suggest otherwise only denigrates the work that they do.

What poor teachers do is another matter!


2 thoughts on “Understanding data

  1. Here in New Zealand, most people don’t like National Standards, but we also know that most people admit they don’t know what they are. That opinion in the absence of knowledge is all too common. I’m a big fan of good data and good discussion. As such I’m responsible for drafting our school’s application of the National Standards.

    I wonder if the fear around league tables may also be a justifiable response to everyone else’s simplistic understanding about educational data, and the poorly considered judgements and decisions they may make that could effect wider groups. People may have a better sense of security if they knew that only those who were able to interpret the data well were the ones reading the results.

    If the stakeholders capacity to interpret data was truly valued in this process then perhaps the training to meet that expectation would be systematically institutionalised as thoroughly and effectively as the tests themselves.

    I really hope this all works out for your diocese Greg. If you have a model of successful implementation on a large scale, New Zealand is listening.

    1. Peter – well said. You’re absolutely right in your comment about fear being the repsonse to everyone else’s simplistic understanding about educational data. If teachers aren’t able to interpret the data, how are parents suppose to and how do we change public perception around assessments such as NAPLAN. There is a great deal of emotion that needs to be separated from the purpose of what we are trying to do with the data. Richard Elmore says that if you can’t see it (teachers using data effectively) then it’s not there. Good luck with your school’s application.

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