Data-driven Instruction or Educator Insanity?

As an educator, I have attended countless staff meetings, collaborations, and in-service sessions focused on data. In theory, data dialogues and data driven instruction are as integral a part of school today as recess and rulers. The reality, however, is that most educators, myself included, still do not know how to efficiently use the mountains of data generated by critical tests mandated in our classrooms.

There are workshops and professional books available to explain the process; but, simple to use, readily available data used to evaluate both student learning and our teaching simply does not exist.

And so, we begin another year learning to interpret data, puzzling through charts and graphs, looking for the answer. I am not opposed to data, and certainly not to evaluating the needs of students to help them grow. The problem, for me, is the repeated emphasis on one-size-fits-all skills and goals for our children.

In a recent staff meeting, we were shown clips from the film Man on Fire, in which Denzel Washington's character, John Creasy, coaches a young child to be a successful swimmer. His techniques are outstanding examples of effective coaching and illustrate exemplary techniques that can be used by any teacher to inspire growth in a student. I couldn't help thinking that with one child to teach, such coaching would be powerful.

Unfortunately, that is not reality. A typical classroom has twenty or more children, each has very specific needs, and all deserve the same effort personalized for their growth and learning. Imagine a world where data was available to pinpoint the individual needs of each child, and with that information educators are provided with the time and resources to personalize learning for each individual maximizing the potential for growth.

In our technologically evolving world, I am hopeful that dream is achievable. I recently read a commentary in Education Week by Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education which makes just that call to action. Speaking to the technology industry, Evans states: "In order to start fresh, the technology industry must own up to its culpability in under-serving our nation's schools and spell out what we will do to make things better... We can -- we must -- drive this kind of breakthrough for students, too. We need to help public schools move from our current one-size-fits-all approach to personalized learning systems enabled by today's technology."

While, I do not think the responsibility for transforming our schools lies solely with the technology industry, I believe the tools and possibilities that will ultimately bring about the inevitable change will come in the form of technology. In the end, or beginning, I can only hope that dream becomes reality and includes not only feedback and personalized learning of basic skills for tests, but even more importantly, communication, creativity, critical thinking, global awareness, and collaboration skills that, according to a recent IDC study, our young people will need to become world and workforce ready in the coming years. The future is now... our children can't afford to wait.