By Jeff Horner, Ed.D.
Lady Boxington: “Whatever does it mean?” - My Fair Lady, 1964
In the classic musical film, My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn portrays Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower seller taught to speak with proper, upper-class English diction. Fortunately for the sake of the comedy of the film, her first attempt to enter polite society fails miserably as she perfectly enunciated words are merely highly polished cockney-style gossip. After using a number of idiomatic expressions among a very posh set of people, one bewildered aristocratic woman wonders aloud, “Whatever does it mean?”
It is my fear that—despite our best efforts at understanding the intersection of the plethora of academic data available to administrators, teachers, students, and parents—many of us still stand in the shoes of Lady Boxington, wondering, “Whatever does it mean?” If you are like me, you can become very busy working through the logistical side of standardized testing. There are parents to notify, reports to compile, proctors to schedule, rooms to set up, tests to secure, and myriad details flailing for our attention. However, when I take a minute to step back and consider all that we are doing in the field of testing, I sometimes wonder: whatever does it mean? In the grand scheme of things, is the 97th percentile that much more significant than the 96th percentile for a student? Is placing into the 5th stanine significantly less profound than the 6th stanine? Did our top-level student who was sick on PSAT test day really have an opportunity to showcase her best abilities? Is an “A” in AP English Language really worth the extra points in the GPA that we award? How do these many different metrics really help us know if our students are learning? Do our scores show that they are demonstrably kinder because of these scores? Are they better citizens? Have they demonstrated a greater level of industriousness just because they have moved their scores up 5-10 points? How are their hearts affected by the way that we choose to talk about their test scores?
Independent schools have mission statements that indicate the commitments they bind themselves to yearly, monthly, daily. The mission statements provide indications of the emphases of their communities. Few schools that I am aware of emphasize the collection and review of data as part of their mission statements. Still, nonetheless, we follow the cycles of test administration, data collection, and data reporting. How are our data review and reporting processes aligned to the values embraced in our communities through our mission statements? To what extent do our practices converge with our mission and to what extent do they diverge from our purpose?
We already collect this data, but how can we ask questions to solve the larger questions we have about our students’ learning? Data can point to some answers, but it can also be merely a starting place for our inquiries.
If you are like me, interested in the “why” of academic data and want to explore how it can be used in deeper, more meaningful ways than simply receiving and reporting, please consider becoming part of the inaugural Academic Data Virtual Learning Network at Baylor’s Center for School Leadership. We are seeking to build a network of educators who want to apply their school’s academic data in transformative ways. We believe that work done together will be more meaningful and bring better insights to the conversation than work done in isolation.
Please come, join our network at its beginning as we consider our use of data and how we can harness it to our educational mission.