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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Too much focus on short-term results hurts schools, report says

With the state testing season well underway across Washington, testing has been a focus of the Education Lab blog this week.

On Wednesday, we reported on an effort by Garfield High teachers in Seattle to improve the classroom assessments they give and consider whether those assessments might eventually replace many of the standardized tests their students take. Earlier this week, we wrote about Gildo Rey Elementary in Auburn, a high poverty school that has succeeded in helping nearly all its students pass state reading and math tests.

Today, we return to a report we filed away back in October, when it was first published.

The authors, two Boston College professors, argue that schools that put too much emphasis on the yearly ups and downs in test results may experience the same problems that businesses do when they concentrate too much on short-term gains: Employees try to game the system, and the organization’s overall success can suffer.

Used thoughtfully, they said, data are a good tool. One of their examples: The Oakland Athletics’ use of player performance statistics, which helped the club improve its record significantly.

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

The professors make a number of recommendations on how to use data to improve schools.  A few examples:

“Measure what is valued instead of valuing only what can be easily measured.”

  • “Create a balanced scorecard of metrics and indicators that captures the full range of what the school or school system values.”
  • “Test prudently not profligately, like the highest performing countries and systems.”

Their full report can be found here. If you don’t have to dive into that now, some of what they write near the end offers food for thought.

“Expertise has no algorithm,” they wrote. “Wisdom does not manifest itself on a spreadsheet. Numbers must be the servant of professional knowledge, not its master. Educators can and should be guided and informed by data systems, but never driven by them.”

“If rich information can be made available to help all stakeholders make better judgments about, and provide improved support for, all students, then professionally and ethically, that information should not be ignored. The more important question is how to capitalize on the positive potential of DDIA (data-driven improvement and accountability) without falling victim to its weaknesses.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: assessment, testing

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