Data and Testing: Has Education Lost Its Focus?

All the testing and data in the world is not going to improve our teachers. Research abounds with documentation on the fact that the TEACHER is the key to student success.
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If you go on Google and type in data driven decision making and education you get pages upon pages of results. If you go and search high stakes testing or standardized testing, again pages and pages of results. Search for professional development and again you get pages and pages, but the difference is that you get pages of professional development on how to help your students do better on high stakes testing and how to make decisions using those data. Does anyone else see a problem with this?

As a nation and as an educational community we have put billions of dollars into creating these tests and creating ways to house the data from these tests, how to make the data more manageable and how to make decisions based on the test results. Is this really the best use of billions of dollars in education? Last I heard states were beginning to make the tests easier so they can pass them and some states were found cheating on these tests. Why? Technically, we continue to be bound under the requirements of No Child Left Behind, which means we are technically still bound by 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Being a person who taught in Texas when George Bush was governor, anyone in the Texas educational system could have predicted this national outcome. He already had his state version of NCLB and it didn't work then either.

So my question is, shouldn't we be putting a stop to these ineffective policies that we know are not working? Shouldn't we be putting our money to better use -- like actually giving teachers more training on how to improve their teaching skills? All the testing and data in the world is not going to improve our teachers. Research abounds with documentation on the fact that the TEACHER is the key to student success.

This issue reminds me of a true story that presents this point well:

My father was born and raised on a farm. When he met my mother he thought she was rich because she had indoor plumbing. That type of farm boy! He owned a pet pig. His father (my grandpap), told him that the Washington County Fair was coming up and that my dad should enter his pig in the Fat Pig Contest. (Side note, I have never been to a fat pig contest but the Washington County Fair still goes on to this day.) My dad was so excited. He was always told what a fine pig he had and that any other pig would fail to compare to his pig. The fair was three months away and not a day went by that my father didn't weigh that pig and keep his weight chart on the side door of the barn. He knew every inch of that pig from height to weight to length and everything else you can imagine.

The great day of the fair came and my dad was really excited about the contest. He brought with him every chart he had on this pig and was getting ready to share his results with anyone that asked. (Side note: nobody asked.) The time came and his pig looked beautiful, but not very big compared to the other pigs around. My father started to worry.

The results came in. My father's pig did not win. He was really upset. My father was confused. How could he have lost when he had collected all that data? My grandfather explained to my dad that weighing the pig and collecting data, did not ensure the pig would gain weight. Rather, he needed to feed his pig the right nutrients, give him the proper exercise and nurture him for proper growth.

The moral of the story: Students will not succeed by collecting data alone, but rather our students require the best instructional practices and the most qualified teachers at every level. "Let's start feeding our students a healthy diet of good instruction."

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