Do District/StateWide Data Systems Improve Instruction or Enrich Number Crunching Companies?

“Pretty soon they’re going to staple a chip into our earlobes”

“Oh, they haven’t done you yet?”

If you admit that you are not totally and completely committed to the “data drives instruction” mantra you must be a troglodyte and outmoded, an unnecessary dinosaur, or. maybe you’re beginning to think we’re being ripped off to the tune of billions.

Remember: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t plotting against you.

The NYS Ed Department announced the letting of contracts to develop/upgrade the New York State “dashboard,” the much ballyhooed data warehouse promised in the Race to the Top application and delayed by the Comptroller’s refusal to approve a “no-bid” contract last year.

Nationwide hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing to a select number of companies who are designing educational data systems.

Some years ago I attended a training session prior to the release of the $83 million New York City system data system – referred to by the acronym – ARIS.

It was interesting, with a few mouse clicks I could access test score, attendance, and historical data about kids in my class, the principal could check out the entire school and Tweed the school system.

The question: how useful was it to the end users, classroom teachers?

The low number of “clicks per school” would indicate – not very useful.

Effective principals prior to ARIS downloaded the state test data, created an error matrix, disaggregated the matrix, categorized the questions and provided teachers with specific info re which types of questions, or, which topics the kids got wrong.

If the fourth grade did particularly poorly on fractions or the kids in a particular class didn’t seem to understand a particular skill those topics and/or skills were addressed in both professional development during common planning time and in classrooms.

Skilled teachers use data every day in classrooms. Asking kids to “stop and jot,” an “exit slip” at the end of a lesson, the host of tools in the toolkit; the Friday quiz, checking homework assignments, unit tests, both written and oral, we are constantly checking for understanding.

The data warehouses enable school systems to track student achievement. The upcoming PARCC assessments that will replace the current state tests envision multiple interim assessments each year


PARCC will develop an assessment system comprised of four components. Each component will be computer-delivered and will use technology to incorporate innovations.

  • Two summative, required assessment components designed      to:
    • Make “college- and career-readiness” and “on-track”       determinations,
    • Measure the full range of standards and full       performance continuum, and
    • Provide data for accountability uses, including       measures of growth.
  • Two non-summative, optional assessment components      designed to:
    • Generate timely information for informing instruction,       interventions, and professional development during the school year.
  • A third non-summative component in English language      arts/literacy will assess students’ speaking and listening skills.

Five exams a year!!

Do these exams make better teachers?

What are these exams going to tell me about kids that I don’t already know?

It will mean that Albany or Tweed, management at all levels, will be able to track data to determine teacher assessments, tenure decisions, perhaps salary schedules.

In effective schools teachers share practices: they share a lesson that really worked well, create and agree on a rubric for a particular unit, occasionally mark each other’s written work, post lesson and unit plans on Dropbox. Of course, working together is at the core of an effective school.

PARRC assessments provide teachers with a “photograph” of students on a particular day. For the vast number of teachers there will be no surprises. What no data system can tell a teacher is why Jose has trouble with fractions. What do I have to do to get through to him? Colleagues may suggest: s/he can dig deeply into his toolkit collected over years of teaching. It may be the overwhelming pressures of the world in which he lives that are preventing him from succeeding in school.

Researchers are finding that living in poverty-stricken, crime ridden neighborhoods can evoke Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSB) behaviors. (See article here )

The academic intervention, no matter how creative, may have no chance of success; the underlying issue may be beyond the scope of the school as the school is currently structured.

Rather than spending $50 million dollars on a false promise which may enrich code writers in New Delhi and investors at home; we should spend the 50m to create community schools with wrap-around services that could reach kids and families with health and psychological services? (See description of the Cincinnati Community Schools Model here )

Hundreds of rural school districts in New York State are on the brink of bankruptcy (legally schools districts in NYS cannot avail themselves of the bankruptcy statutes – there is discussion of a State agency to “takeover” a district in financial distress). Instead of working with the districts to find solutions the State Ed Department is burdening them with the cost of maintaining a state imposed data system.


How many school districts already purchase proprietary software products that enable them to analyze data? How many schools in New York City abjure ARIS and have purchased Schoolology or Skedula or Datacation or some other tool that fits the needs of the school?

Clearly they stapled the wrong chip into the earlobes of the folks at State Ed.


2 responses to “Do District/StateWide Data Systems Improve Instruction or Enrich Number Crunching Companies?

  1. “Lunacy” pretty well sums it up. So does “follow the money.” If you want to improve the schools, follow the kids. That’s what good teachers do, figuratively, every day. There are things in life that can’t be measured. There are qualities that can’t be seen or heard. How people learn varies a great deal. What they respond to is near universal – passion- on the part of the teacher, or speaker, or musician, or actor. You need data to get the Rover to Mars. The people who acheived that are creative, passionate and I bet ninety-eight percent of them play an instrument. Now there’s data that can be put to good use.


  2. The AFT and the NEA happily signed on to the Endless Testing regime as part of the RttT push and here in NY State the UFT and the NYSUT happily signed on to Governor Cuomo’s vaunted new 60%/40% rank and yank teacher evaluation system that will put every teacher on a bell curve, declare the ones at the bottom “Ineffective” and give districts the right to fire them. They even held hands with Cuomo at the press conference in February to announce the changes to the evaluation systems.

    It’s a little late in the game to start pushing for community schools and wraparound services when we’ve been collaborating with the reform movement, the corporations and the politicians on bringing the Common Core Federal Standards to the nation, helping to develop supposedly sophisticated 21st Century assessments (i.e., standardized tests) based upon those federal standards, and signing off on the changes to teacher evaluation systems that give states, municipalities and districts the power to use these reforms to essentially turnover their teaching staffs every couple of years, fire the expensive vets and bring in cheaper newbies. That cycle will then go on as the cheaper newbies become expensive vets and get canned for younger, cheaper newbies or replaced by education software and minimum wage “room facilitators.”

    The damage has been done and the high stakes accountability/data tracking train has left the station and is plummeting down the track. I wish the AFT, the NEA, the UFT and the NYSUT had done a better job of explaining why RttT was even more deleterious to education than NCLB, how it was going to push states to add dozens of new high stakes standardized tests into every subject, K-12, and use the scores from those tests on a rank and yank teacher evaluation system that essentially pits every teacher against every other teacher. I wish they had explained how basing an education system on FEAR was not either a healthy or particularly effective way to improve public education. I wish they had done a better job of pushing back against the education reform meme that the U.S. used to be ranked #1 in international test scores but now ranks near the bottom and noted how the U.S. has NEVER been ranked #1 on that measurement, the U.S. actually has improved over time and because the U.S. has high levels of poverty and tests every child (unlike, say, China or India), it is unfair and not especially useful to use this measurement as a comparison. Most importantly, I wish they had explained how academic performance will lag so long as schools ignore socio-emotional learning, that you cannot teach just to the brain and not to the heart and the spirit too, that children need to be emotionally and psychologically nourished as well as physically nourished in order to thrive in school.

    But the AFT, the NEA, the UFT, and the NYSUT haven’t done a particularly good job of explaining any of those. And so we have a public, barraged with anti-public education and anti-teacher propaganda in the news media, in the popular culture and in advertising, made ready to accept the the corporate reform agenda because a plausible and convincing alternative vision of public education hasn’t been articulated to them.

    Unfortunately with so many laws changed, with the Common Core Federal Standards and the accompanying battery of associated tests being readied for implementation, and with so much money already pulled from classrooms and schools and put into data systems, software, consultants and untested professional development, I think it is now too late to articulate that vision and too late to undo the damage.

    I do hope after a decade of RttT-influenced education, that we will be able to pick up the pieces and return humanity, progressive practices, wonder and dare I say, fun, to public education.

    But until then, it is going to be a dark time full of high stakes accountability, Darwinian competition between teachers over evaluations and value-added measurements, and Endless Testing and Endless Test Prep for students.


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