If you skim back through my past posts here, you might notice that I have cast the word "data" with a very specific connotation. I even did a search on SFS for the word "data," and lo and behold, a bunch of my posts--and even more interestingly, a bunch of my comments on other posts were there... and just the snip shown in the search results highlights my apprehension, distrust, reservation, and resistance to data.
While I curse under my breath, I have to recognize: that search? That's data.
I'm having to re-evaluate my own resistance.
As I examine the new teacher evaluation system, I'm in general a proponent of what it contains, but anything that mentions that four-letter-word always unsettles me a little.
Not long ago I co-presented at a CSTP teacher leadership conference, and one of the points about leadership was to consider how to activate change and to recognize that growth and change cannot happen unless someone is upset. By upset, we didn't mean p'd off, we meant having their status quo challenged in a way that unsettled people enough to get them moving.
I guess that is what the d-word embedded in the new evaluation system is doing to me right now... unsettling me enough to allow me to change. Especially since I discovered Flubaroo.
Flubaroo is a simple little script you can add to a google spreadsheet to make it grade your students' work. (Cue the choir of angels and lights from heaven.)
I have used Flubaroo to grade three vocabulary assessments thus far this school year, and it does in about one minute what would take easily an hour to do by hand. More interesting, though, is the data it provides me. It does item analysis to let me know where kids as a group excelled or struggled. More than that even: it forced me to realize that my perception about my students and their performance on my vocabulary assessments was actually wrong.
For years, I always interpreted that multiple-choice tests were the "easiest" way to go for my kids to show their vocabulary knowledge. I relegated the cloze section to the end and made it the smallest, assuming that because it demanded a higher degree of reading skill and word knowledge, that it was unfair to include too many of these kinds of exercises. After all, with the multiple choice questions, kids were limited to four options (much easier to eliminate non-answers) but with the cloze, they had to draw from the entire word bank of 20 or 30 vocab words. For some reason, seeing the kids' wrong answer written there in the blank (as opposed to seeing the wrong bubble filled in) carried more psychic weight with me and thus led me to a greater assumption of failure carried in an incorrect cloze versus an incorrect choice.
So when the data revealed that my kids were rocking the cloze and bombing the multiple choice in three separate assessments, it forced me to rethink my assessment and what my assessment was really assessing.
First, I realized that the way I introduce vocabulary is more about its use in context than in memorizing a list of synonyms and definitions--so it made sense that this was the skill my students excelled at rather than the matching of abstract definitions.
Second, I realized that I would have moved forward with my past assumptions had I not set aside my resistance to data.
To me, this is where data has its place in effective teaching: evaluation of student performance and progress. I'm having to eat my past words--to an extent--and accept that data actually can be a very powerful part of my teaching process. In the past, my only data had been the gradebook and my observations. Now, I see that engaging data differently can make a difference in my approach.
I remain skeptical about how data may be misused by ineffective administrators as part of the new evaluation system in our state. However, I'm now more convinced about the value of close examination of classroom data to inform my instruction. My experience also points out a confounding factor when it comes to teachers using data: it matters whether or not a teacher has the tools (literal and figurative) to evaluate student data.
If I cannot change in light of new experience and information, how can I expect my students to? My relationship with data is warming...just a little.