Searching For Data
Accountability requires schools to prove something, while performance improvement is focused on improving student performance.
The conversation in the media, at the state and federal levels, and often, in schools is focused overwhelmingly on accountability.
A case in point:
A high school has data to show that many students fail to make it to class on time. The school identifies this as a problem and sets out to fix it. They institute more serious repercussions for students who are late to class, yet the problem isn’t going away. After several unsuccessful efforts, someone suggests surveying the kids to identify the cause. By asking students two questions—(1) Are you ever late to class? and (2) Why?—the school identifies the cause of the problem. With no clocks in the hallways and only two bells signaling the end of one class and the beginning of the next, students don’t know how much time has elapsed and are arriving to class late. By identifying and addressing the true cause of the problem through a student survey rather than guessing at the cause, the school’s tardiness problem is rectified by simply adding clocks in the hallway. The result is more time spent teaching and learning and less time spent on ineffective discipline.
In addition, we traditionally create assessments and collect data that measure accountability rather than identifying the factors that influence learning. As long as we continue to devote the majority of our energy, time, and resources to proving something, we will make less significant strides toward improving the education of each child.
We must be strategic in the questions we ask about quantitative data and ensure that we collect qualitative data to help identify and address causes rather than just dealing with effects. Stakeholders at all levels must use data to identify and address the factors that influence student learning. We assume that data lead to conclusions, yet they can only suggest what may have caused the result. Data rarely, if ever, identify cause and effect. When we focus on identifying the causes of both success and failure, data becomes not a dirty four-letter word but an essential ingredient in the recipe for educating the whole child.