When the purveyors of evaluation systems are hawking their latest program, they confidently assert that the test scores are only one of multiple measures.
Don’t worry, they say, the test scores are only 20%, or 30%, or 40%, or 50%.
We will put them into context with lots of soft measures derived from classroom observations or other non-data sources.
But it is not true, even if they mean it when they say it.
This principal writes:
The allure of data is simply too strong to resist.
I began teaching in a state where a high-stakes state testing system was already in place. Naturally, the pressure was intense on teachers, schools, and districts, but it was the only reality I knew.
Later, my wife and I moved to another state where high-stakes tests were just a seed of an idea, almost beginning to germinate. Of course, there was talk of it being just “one of many indicators.” Both my wife and I thought, “Yeah, right. We know what’s coming.” And ten plus years later, this fleur du mal has fully bloomed.
As a principal, I try to use data sensibly, as just “one of many indicators,” but it’s a losing battle. It’s difficult to complicate people’s thinking, to point out the complexities of educating young people, in an environment hooked on numbers. They’re so tangible, so easy to communicate. We can wave them about as proof of success or failure. As complicated as the algorithm can be, the numbers dumb us down.
I need our numbers to show improvement or else my leadership is questioned (or I’ll possibly get turnarounded). I don’t need to point out the numbers to our teachers; they scour them, searching for vindication. Our community judges us by them. As for the politicians and policymakers, we know how they use them.
I can’t go so far as to say the numbers have no place in education (Why can’t I go so far? Maybe I need to challenge my thinking on this.), but it appears that consuming them in moderation demands a level of intellectual rigor and self-discipline we don’t possess.