Friday, August 20, 2010

Data obsession

I have to admit I have a small data obsession. I love collecting data on my students, analyzing it, graphing it, comparing it, tracking it, and interpreting it. I was never one for numbers, statistics, or math, but when you connect it to the little ones I care about, I become obsessed.

Last spring a colleague of mine sent our whole staff the link to Kids Count, which collects possibly all of the data you'd ever want on children all over the country. I've spent hours looking at it, comparing the rate of 4th graders who scored below proficient on their standardized test in one state vs another state, comparing the number of children living in poverty in one area of my own state vs another area of the state, or looking at which area in the state has the most parents who do not read to their children more than 3 times a week (Texas) and then comparing that to test scores.

It's an incredible time-waster, yet somehow spending an hour clicking through their graphs seems better than wasting an hour on facebook.

Some of the graphs are no surprise: In 2009 94% of 4th graders who are English Language Learners scored below proficient on the 4th grade reading standardized test.

Some is just heart-breaking: From 2006-2008 19% of children lived in households that did not have secure access to food at some point in a 12 month period.

26% of US immigrant children live in linguistically-isolated households.

40% of children between the ages of 3-5 in Virginia are not enrolled in preschool, nursery school, or kindergarten.

16% of children between the ages of 1-5 in the United States are read to by family members less than 3 times a week.

One thing that got me was when I looked at my specific county. The county itself has a very small percent of children eligible for free and reduced lunch, yet there is a significant number of children at my school are eligible for free and reduced lunch. (These are not the specific numbers, but it would be as though 6% of the children in my county are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but 75% of children in my school are eligible). It is not as though there are not wealthier neighborhoods near my school- it is just how the lines are drawn. Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn't want to work at my school if the lines were drawn differently- I love our population- but something seems very, very wrong with those numbers. Especially when in the end you compare our test scores to those of schools down the road who have less than 2% of children eligible for free and reduced lunch. Especially when you consider this statistic:

In 2009 82% of children qualified for free and reduced lunch did not pass the 4th grade reading standardized assessment. (In Virginia). I don't think their failure rate is only because they are sentenced to go to their neighborhood schools where their teachers hate them and refuse to teach. In fact, I don't think it is because they all have teachers who are just sitting around collecting a pay check.

Not that we want to change who comes to our school only to bring up our test scores. It is not that at all. (After all, we made AYP this year!) But there is something wrong with the significance we place on test scores if we know the trends. Yes, we should know these numbers and we should use these numbers to close the achievement gap. We should be working our tails off as educators to make sure that every child passes the test- we should be monitoring their scores, analyzing them, and tracking them so we can see what works and what does not in terms of teaching. We should be using these numbers to inspire us to do better.

But we, the teachers, can use these numbers. We are capable of using numbers to improve our teaching without politicians standing over us declaring we are failing. How can we be labeled as failing when our students on free and reduced lunch have a significantly higher pass rate than the rest of the state's students on free and reduced lunch? Why are the people yelling about our failed education system only pointing fingers at the teachers and not the resources the communities have access to, the bigger picture, the neighborhoods, early childhood opportunities, and parent education opportunities? I hate to even write this because one could argue that I'm trying to make excuses for failing, and I'm not. Every child I teach can learn to read, and we will make that happen. But in the bigger picture, in the national debate that is constantly giving me a headache- there is more to look at than lazy teachers- what else as a society do we need to do to close the achievement gap? What else is missing?

Play around on the site, check out the data yourself, compare/contrast, draw your own conclusions.

1 comment:

luckeyfrog said...

Across the county, there's a large public university serving over 30,000 students. There's also a public school system that serves a large group of professors' kids.

Then, across the county, we have over 93% free and reduced lunch and serve students from 3 local shelters.

And people still think that the schools across the county must have teachers that care more and are better because their scores are so much higher. Unfortunately, I don't think that perception is likely to change anytime soon, but like you- I love the population we have and I wouldn't like to move, even to the "great" school!

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