Data gathering and testing in schools: how much is enough?

Humans have a new toy – technology – which can produce remarkable streams of data about students and learning – and like children given a new entertainment console, the powers-that-be who set educational policy are enraptured. The question is, how much data is enough?

Yesterday, for example, a whole district of children had the afternoon off while teachers spent the time learning the ins and outs of an assessment tool. The assessment tool (created and owned by the testing giant Pearson) provides very clear data about mastery of a variety of skill areas in math and literacy. The resulting spreadsheet any teacher can assemble at regular intervals throughout the year showing skills of students is impressive and easy to read. Will this transform teaching and learning?

Most teachers will tell you they view data from assessments created by companies as somewhat helpful but hardly pivotal when it comes to teaching children effectively. They say they don’t really need the information from these assessments – that they can determine themselves where students stand in terms of skill levels and learning gaps. They say that what they do need in order to perform at the highest level is time with colleagues for planning curriculum and discussing individual students; time with students without interruptions from outside forces like testing sessions; students able and ready to learn because they are clean, nourished, and well-rested.

Like devices in the home, technology provides schools with opportunities they should embrace when truly warranted, and otherwise resist. The years a student is in school should be treated with kid gloves – they come around once, and time wasted is rarely regained.




Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.