You hear it all the time, in all the media “Student data shows need for better teaching.” It is the mantra of many educational reformers today. I have struggled with this argument for years. When I talk to friends outside of the education field they buy into this argument. If students don’t perform well on a test then it is “the teachers fault”. Seems logical from a business perspective. When a business makes a product, they desire them all to come off the assembly line the same. If a sales man isn’t making sales or a company isn’t selling its product, then the person or company is at “fault”.
Problem is education is not a business. Students are not products but individual people with a variety of individual needs. Does our society want all of our students exiting schools to be the same? It seems that way right now with the testing culture that exists in our schools today. Maybe we need to take a step back and look at schools in a different light.
Student data is to teaching as product sales are to company’s success
The analogy should be
Student data is to teaching as crops growth are to farmers.
Farmers grow crops similarly to how teachers help grow youths minds. Farmers look at the climate of the region pick best methods and choose crops. Similarly teachers see the environment students come from and pick lessons accordingly. The best farmer can loose a crop when unexpected events occur. Droughts, insect infestations, and floods are all possible outside influences that can cause a crop to be lost. The best teachers can not show students growth gains when outside events effect their classrooms. Deaths, loss of jobs and other social ills can effect student performance despite the quality of teaching. Farmers can help adjust environmental factors that affect their crops by watering dry fields, applying pesticides and building dykes. Schools systems try to adjust the environments for their students with counseling options but it is often hard to control these factors.
Even this analogy has a weakness, farmers get to pick their crops for the environment. Teachers have no choice. They have to teach every student that walks into their classroom. Teachers give their “A ” game everyday to create an atmosphere for success and culture of learning.
Society needs to be careful when using “learning” data to measure the teaching that is going on in the classrooms. Incredible teachers are leaving the classrooms due the recent trend in using this data poorly. It is time for it to change.