Data. Oh, data.
I can trace my math-phobia back to second grade. First, I think it was unfair to put a picture of a real clown on the front of the book. Clearly this was before the age where childhood sensitivities were taken under consideration. Don't get me wrong, I loved clowns when I was little, but looking back it just feels like someone was setting us up with a subliminal message. The teacher was probably the bigger culprit, though. We used to use grease pencils on laminated folders to complete classwork. Then we had to erase. And erase. And rub. And erase. And the folders were never clean enough. It sucked whatever joy there was out of getting a few problems right. For me, it was all downhill from there. Algebra might as well have been Mandarin Chinese, and geometry, well, it just was not ok.
Fast forward to 2017 and a doctoral level course called "Advanced Quantitative Statistical Analysis", which was even more cruel and unusual than the name implies. I'm telling you the anti-hyperbolic truth when I tell that this course nearly destroyed me. With some coaching and emotional propping up, I made it though. Right now I'm taking a certification course that involves using data to inform the decisions we make about students. It's a nice, light course. Sure there is some minor residual PTSD from the aforementioned course whose name shan't be spoken, but I'm coping, thanks for asking.
Data is a big industry, a big term, a big deal in schools, have you heard? I'm sure you have, you can't avoid it. In his book "What School Could Be", Ted Dintersmith says that one of the best ways to kill something is to start
measuring it. This flies in the face of the bureaucratic urgency to measure everything our students know. Accountability is key and data is king. Data driven, data informed, data based. Numbers. Stats. Clowns...... they all go together. (See what they did there?)
There is a place for data. We do need to have some measure of certainty that our kids understand what they need to know, or at least what the Feds tell us that kids need to know. We need to know for sure they are making growth. I mean obviously we should be testing the bejoobers out of kids and the best way to make sure that we are growing as people is to measure with paper and pencil, using multifaceted multi-step questions that would trip up skilled attorneys and statisticians. And of course this will prepare kids for the real world, because we can all speak to the frequency with which we take paper and pencil tests at our jobs. Wait... we don't...we don't take job tests?
We're missing the boat continuously. The constant spate of data that educators are being asked to contend with squeezes out the art of the teacher. It assumes nothing for social or emotional growth, and frankly I'm starting to wonder if anyone really even cares about that anymore. We talk more about data than civility. And let's face it, there are many more problems with social justice and injustice in the world than with math. Math doesn't really kill people (although it's tried!) but the lack of coping skills, social growth, and emotional health is one of the top five killers of our adolescents.
Yes, I know who my kids are who struggle with numeracy. I know who has trouble with comprehension, who is struggling with letter sounds, consonant blends, figurative language and vocabulary. I can also tell with some degree of confidence who has a broken heart, who is struggling with coping skills, and who is sprinting down the rocky road, but do you know who asks? Who wants to know how they are growing? Really- no one.
If you are a parent, take the time to make sure your child is growing in all the ways that can't be graded. Do I care if they are passing or failing? Yes. Do I care more if they are emotionally healthy? Absolutely. If you are a teacher, do your due diligence and make sure your kids are growing academically, but not at the cost of their pride. Not risking their hearts. If you are an administrator, don't let data override your instincts.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating for all things safe-space where no one can disagree or have their feelings hurt... or for anyone saying anything at any time because "freedom of speech". The world is real and cold and cruel. But healthy kids can learn to listen to people who aren't like them. They can learn that it's ok to be different, think different, live different. Holden Caufield from Sallinger's Catcher in the Rye said, "Different isn't wrong. It's just different." Caufield 2020, please.
You can love numbers. You can love data, tests and even clowns. But by all means, love kids more. Love their hearts and their heads, and measure their happiness. It's the only statistic that really matters in the end.