Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
May 8th, 2009 by Luann

A Profession Driven By Data ?

We learn about data in our teacher-preparation programs; at least I did, 20+ years ago.  I learned how to count up my students’ correct answers and compare them to the incorrect answers to pinpoint areas of difficulty among these students.

I next saw “data” in my educational leadership program.  My thesis attempted to correlate students’ report card grades with their anonymous, self-admitted use of cigarettes, alcohol, illegal drugs, after school sports and extra-curricular activities.  I saw the (expected) correlation between substance abuse and lower grades, and higher grades among athletes, cheerleaders, and officers of classes and the student body.

My doctoral dissertation seeks relationships between inquiry learning, construction of knowledge, and scientific misconceptions held by pre-service elementary teachers with the void in scientific literacy in elementary students.  More data, but this time with questions about the validity of the data and the reliability of the methods used to collect the data.

I know data, various types of data, and what makes the data valid, what makes it reliable.

As teachers, we are bombarded with data about our students.  We have MAPS scores, (insert name of state high-stakes test here – my state used the WASL and next the MSP) scores, ACT scores, SAT scores, RIT scores, ITED scores.  We have reliability and validity data on some of these instruments.  What we don’t have is that same reliability/validity data for students themselves.

There is no measure of who had breakfast before the test and who didn’t. No measure of who got thrown out of the house the night before, or who didn’t have a house in the first place.  Who has only been speaking English for a few years or months? Had a fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend on the way to school? Who has test anxiety? And who has been told that they “don’t need to pass this test to graduate?”

When I went through the National Board process, I learned before all else to know my students. I learned that all the things listed above and more matter very much in assessing student achievement, and we haven’t even gotten to learning differences yet. In 20 years as a classroom teacher, I’ve learned that there’s often another side to classroom data, especially data from those students about whom we are most concerned. These data are gathered while meeting the “know the student” standard and while selecting a major idea, developing learning goals, a set of appropriate  instructional activities to help students reach those goals in a sequence appropriate to each student, and letting students show that they have reached those learning goals.  This sequence now has a fancy name for what we used to call a seat-of-the-pants thing that told a teacher when students were “getting it” and were ready for an assessment.  We now call this formative assessment, still the best source of authentic data I know.  The rub is that I don’t know a standardized test that includes any of this in its data.

Drive these data. Straight to the legislature.

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