Promise and Perils of a Data-Driven Future

Dale Patrick Dempsey

Is data collection and technology really revolutionizing classroom instruction? It depends.
 
Consider the teacher who snaps open a laptop, and with a few clicks of the mouse has comprehensive achievement data on all her students, reaching back from the beginning of their school careers up to yesterday. The data includes not only results from standardized tests but also information about each student’s educational background, results of coursework, and grade point average.
 
Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Instead, most teachers find that the software programs given to them to analyze student data contain spotty content that’s hard to understand, let alone useful.

We know this thanks to Education Week’s annual report, “Technology Counts,” which is recently released for 2006. The report issues a technology report card to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Ohio received a solid grade for making technology accessible to teachers (“A”), but a poor grade for using it (“D-minus”). Overall, the state earned “B-minus,” slightly higher than the national average of “C-plus.” Michigan was the reverse, receiving a “D-plus” for access to technology, and an “A-minus” for use of technology, with an overall grade of “C.”

The report finds that it isn’t enough to build computer systems and then expect teachers and schools to use them effectively. “We will have missed the boat if we don’t answer the question of how these data systems can inform instruction,” said Dane Linn, education policy director for the National Governors Association.

Technology is expensive, but cost isn’t the greatest challenge schools face in effectively using it. There are three other issues that schools and districts struggle mightily with:

  1. changing teacher attitudes about technology,
  2. finding the time and resources to make all teachers computer-literate, and
  3. maintaining, integrating and gaining access to data on individual students from pre-K through high school.
There is a long way to go. The “Technology Counts 2006” report found that in Ohio teachers have access to no more student data than the general public does, and that the state provides little guidance or training on the effective use of data analysis and how to use it in creating lesson plans.

Ohio is hardly alone in our struggle to use technology. A brochure published by the American Diploma Project Network lists ten essential elements in creating a longitudinal data system. No state in the country has all ten elements, and only eight states have at least seven. It appears most states are falling short in collecting, managing and using data.  Computers and software today are fast-changing and incredibly adaptable. Educators must learn to be the same.

 
Technology Counts 2006,” Education Week, May 2006

Measuring What Matters,” American Diploma Project Network, November 2005