Archives For Technology

At the intersection of data and evaluation, here is a hypothetical scenario:Screenshot 2014-06-08 20.56.29

A young teacher meets an evaluator for a mid-year meeting.

“85 % of the students are meeting the goal of 50% or better, in fact they just scored an average of 62.5%,” the young teacher says.

“That is impressive,” the evaluator responds noting that the teacher had obviously met his goal. “Perhaps,you could also explain how the data illustrates individual student performance and not just the class average?”

“Well,” says the teacher offering a printout, “according to the (Blank) test, this student went up 741 points, and this student went up….” he continues to read from the  spreadsheet, “81points…and this student went up, um, 431 points, and…”

“So,” replies the evaluator, “these points mean what? Grade levels? Stanine? Standard score?”

“I’m not sure,” says the young teacher, looking a bit embarrassed, “I mean, I know my students have improved, they are moving up, and they are now at a 62.5% average, but…” he pauses.

“You don’t know what these points mean,” answers the evaluator, “why not?”

This teacher who tracked an upward trajectory of points was able to illustrate a trend that his students are improving, but the numbers or points his students receive are meaningless without data analysis. What doesn’t he know?

“We just were told to do the test. No one has explained anything…yet,” he admits.

There will need to be time for a great deal of explaining as the new standardized tests, Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), that measure the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are implemented over the next few years. These digital tests are part of an educational reform mandate that will require teachers at every grade level to become adept at interpreting data for use in instruction. This interpretation will require dedicated professional development at every grade level.

Understanding how to interpret data from these new standardized tests and others must be part of every teacher’s professional development plan. Understanding a test’s metrics is critical because there exists the possibility of misinterpreting results.  For example, the data in the above scenario would appear that one student (+741 points) is making enormous leaps forward while another student (+81) is lagging behind. But suppose how different the data analysis would be if the scale of measuring student performance on this particular test was organized in levels of 500 point increments. In that circumstance, one student’s improvement of +741 may not seem so impressive and a student achieving +431 may be falling short of moving up a level. Or perhaps, the data might reveal that a student’s improvement of 81 points is not minimal, because that student had already maxed out towards the top of the scale. In the drive to improve student performance, all teachers must have a clear understanding of how the results are measured, what skills are tested, and how can this information can be used to drive instruction.

Therefore, professional development must include information on the metrics for how student performance will be measured for each different test. But professional development for data analysis cannot stop at the powerpoint!   Data analysis training cannot come “canned,” especially, if the professional development is marketed by a testing company. Too often teachers are given information about testing metrics by those outside the classroom with little opportunity to see how the data can help their practice in their individual classrooms. Professional development must include the conversations and collaborations that allow teachers to share how they could use or do use data in the classroom. Such conversations and collaborations with other teachers will provide opportunities for teachers to review these test results to support or contradict data from other assessments.

Such conversations and collaborations will also allow teachers to revise lessons or units and update curriculum to address weakness exposed by data from a variety of assessments. Interpreting data must be an ongoing collective practice for teachers at every grade level; teacher competency with data will come with familiarity.

In addition, the collection of data should be on a software platform that is accessible and integrated with other school assessment programs. The collection of data must be both transparent in the collection of results and secure in protecting the privacy of each student. The benefit of technology is that digital testing platforms should be able to calculate results in a timely manner in order to free up the time teachers can have to implement changes suggested because of data analysis. Most importantly, teachers should be trained how to use this software platform.

Student data is a critical in evaluating both teacher performance and curriculum effectiveness, and teachers must be trained how to interpret rich pool of data that is coming from new standardized tests. Without the professional development steps detailed above, however, evaluation conversations in the future might sound like the response in the opening scenario:

“We just were told to do the test. No one has explained anything…yet.”

I teach English in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school, and that means that there is  wireless for all kinds of devices: notebooks, Kindles, laptops, and phones. Internet access is also open for social media sites, except Facebook, since many teachers use them for resources or to communicate with students. There is a school policy  requiring a 7″ screen on a device for classroom use, but students access their cell phones throughout the day.

Once class has begun, students can be online for tasks assigned by a teacher. What is not surprising is that, like students of previous generations, they might drift. For example, while their parents may have passed notes on bits of paper, this generation texts their notes. Their phones are a continuous source of temptation, the same way that their phones will be a temptation in the real world when they leave school. Educators recognize that students must be trained in the effective and appropriate use of technology, yet, with the exponential changes in the use of technology in education, educators may not know or practice the best strategies.

Students, however, often develop best practices in the use of technology themselves. Students can surprise us.

The good example of this sort of surprise is the message of recent holiday ad by Apple. In the ad, a Christmas family reunion begins with the arrival of a family including a teenager preoccupied with his iPhone.  He looks to be missing out on all the festivities: the sled-riding, the cookie-decorating, the dinners, the snowman-building (although he does have the carrot for a snowman’s nose in his pocket). But, on Christmas morning he presents his family with a video he has filmed to celebrate the reunion. In a twist of perception, the video shows that he has not been distracted by the phone; he has recorded and edited all the family events in making the “Harris Family Holiday”. He even makes Grandma cry in gratitude.

The short commercial is brilliantly cast; the teenager looks like any one of a number of my students. His head is constantly bent over the glowing screen; he looks up only briefly to acknowledge a word or gesture thrown in his direction. He could be in my classroom…so is he an example of the distracted  student or is he an example of creativity in my classroom?

The commercial is both an attempt to sell iPhones as well as justify the perception of distraction. “You are mistaken,” Apple is telling the viewer, “the iPhone is not a distraction; the iPhone is a tool.” In an advertising paradox, Apple is telling the truth…the iPhone is both.

I have witnessed students in my class be completely distracted by the cell phone  and other digital tools. I have also witnessed them use these tools to complete assignments beyond my expectations. I have been as surprised as the family in the holiday video. 

Perhaps the most important lesson from Apple is that the “every-teenager” featured in the commercial does the video on his own. There is no assignment. The video is his gift to his family. His choice to use this particular tool for a specific purpose illustrates the goal of a 21st Century education. The commercial also provides teachers with an example of a student practicing 21st Century skills.

The word surprise is derived from the past participle of Old French surprendre meaning “to overtake”. There is no surprise that Apple’s promotion of the iPhone in this commercial overtakes the heart in an attempt to overtake the competitive cell phone market. There should be no surprise that a cell phone is already in most students’ pockets or book bags. Those cell phones need not overtake the classroom if educators encourage their use as a tool and let the students surprise us with what they can do.