Teachers: don’t diss the data

A recent report has called for the focus in education to be put “back on teaching, away from paperwork”. As someone who has spent four decades in education, I share the pain of pointless paperwork and meaningless marking. However, it’s important to set the record straight for what is often dismissed as “data”. The decisions we make when it comes to teaching must be informed by quality data.

As NSW Teachers Federation Deputy President Joan Lemaire states in the same article, our “most important work is getting to know students”. Of course it is – but the work is enhanced when we can gather information about how students are progressing. 

I’ve written before that data has to be a tool of trade for every teacher. Good teachers know that unless data is central to the work, there is little way of gauging how effective the teaching really is. There’s a hokey old expression that goes “a poor worker blames his tools”. Rather than criticising teachers who might feel a little uncomfortable with using data as a tool in the classroom, we need to shift the focus on to how we better support the use of the information that we currently collect about student learning.

Whenever there are discussions about the use of data in schools, it is inevitably tied to NAPLAN. NAPLAN is an Australia-wide snapshot of how students are doing in certain measures of progress at a particular point in time. The critical question for all schools is how is it being used to improve the learning and teaching in this community? I believe we need to get NAPLAN data back to students and schools as quickly as possible so that teachers can understand, analyse and use the information while it is still an accurate reflection of where each child is at.

It’s easy to diss data because it’s not what people get excited about in education. Data isn’t “Dead Poets Society” or “Goodbye Mr Chips” but we know it does matter. So by all means, let’s ditch the administrative drivel and red-tape that is often associated with education policy-making. But don’t throw the data out with the bathwater!


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