Oops, I did it again! I'm not sure why I continue to do it, after doing it for so many years now. Setting myself up for an all too predictable frustration. "Bloody hell! Why am I even bothering?" I implode with anger. This feeling is probably all too familiar for too many of us in the workplace. "That data is rubbish!"
Like many, I grew up loving numbers and statistics; I worked with percentages and my head riddled itself with problems over the happenings of AFL events upon the previous weekend or the cricket at the local park. I can still remember faking a sickie from school when Australia would play a One Day International Cricket Match, I'd soon be glued to the screen, taking graphs and working out run rates by hand. There are so many upsides of data, but never did I think I'd be writing a blog about the downside and, at times, the ineffectiveness of it.
So, with this love for data, it probably doesn't come as a surprise my findings and observations bring about great frustration, bringing me to the point where I feel we (teachers and schools at least) have gone too far using it incorrectly.
From one perspective, I love the analytical science data brings, and to its definition, it is simply supposed to do this: Find patterns, trends, deficiencies and areas of concern so that an individual/cluster can access feedback on progression and then move forward towards greater competency. On the other hand, data lends itself to what I suggest is the typifying reason employees behave with dishonesty and, to an extent, corruption. Today, I'm going to explore both.
Colleagues, without even trying, simply by not caring enough to do their job properly, send you to the edge of your tether. Contributing most to this and the worst thing ever brought into my workplaces, across several different schools, is the data platform. Amongst other things, it brings about a Debbie Stroud coined feeling, 'demoralisation'. As a negative, we'll start with the exposure of this data. My aforementioned point (about being a platform) demands all key stakeholders have access to data. No one seems to care where from and how the data came about but we just need so much of it! As if this data is the potion to ease all the tension within. Parents and students alike wait for it like Christmas. Many then grapple with it like the Grinch has stolen our happiness when things don't go to plan, further bringing about stress for everyone. Ahh, data. Data offers many in a workplace a first-hand look at what others are doing, how they are tracking and, most importantly, where the deficits are. This isn't a bad thing either. We need time to reflect and collate information on the practice in which we operate. We need to ask, 'is my practice working?' and 'where can I improve?' The problem lays dormant in many a workplace though as data seems to be more commonly fabricated than Donald Trump's media coverage. To put it simply, the data we are exerting is complete and utter, "FAKE NEWS". Wow! Didn't think I'd be quoting Donald Trump in a blog! Put simply, if we pretend all is well and provide some falsehood data to say so, people may just believe us - this is not a good thing by the way!
Either way, the problem with having a platform in your workplace may not seem evident at first, for there are many positives which are grandstanded and paraded around in the early days, hence the 'great' decision to purchase it; but slowly and surely, issues leak, then ooze and eventually pour profusely. Now, this is 'demoralising!' There are those employees with the smoke and mirrors approach, parading about when it suits (or when authorities are watching), showcasing, you know, employee brilliance, but what is really going on? Here's where, if we look closely enough at the data, we will find perhaps some very confusing, if not baffling, results. Requirements and allocation of workloads are not undertaken correctly, the practice is poor and the people receiving the produce (in my case, students and parents), are very happy, despite being a little suspicious, for the outcomes are reaching new heights. Whilst the comings and goings within the domain reeks of very rare and weak competency, the results suggest otherwise.
This is where data fails to reveal what it was designed for, the truth!
One of the great benefits of data is that it keeps a company, entity or system accountable. There are standards in which we all need to adhere to, and bloody high ones at that! Data keeps track of performance over time. In a car dealership, a commission is offered for greater sales, bringing about strong outcomes for the business; in an entrepreneurial institute, data shows growth and decline and allows stakeholders to monitor networking, company goals and gives insight into what lies ahead. This, for the number lover, sounds appetising, but on the flip-side, this type of data can also bring about competition within the ranks and can interfere with the whole purpose of the data collation in the first place, improvement. Data can bring about ill-feelings, squabbling and stress. In my profession, teachers start looking into how to best accommodate the needs of data, not students. The honest educators work harder, walking the tightrope of burnout and the bad ones only exacerbate this by spinning webs of deceitful and false data. What's worse, the teachers' practice declines, for fear of disconformity and start teaching to tests. The vicious cycle begins and there's no turning back.
Data can be toxic, in any environment. To make my point, I need to delve into the piece of data my profession does really well… (cough…cough) withholding: from all the data and testing that occurs, teachers are getting worse! We are nearly at the point of epidemic! With more teachers than ever before leaving the profession (data exhibited in a previous blog) and no sign of halting, we must look at the formula for acknowledging how we use data and how it improves teaching practice. Let's not forget the kids! They are the real ones missing out here. While we bicker in the background, the students are losing good teachers, quality nourishment of knowledge and a bestowed critical, investigative thinker for the future. Let me use the naughty, often forbidden word to explain. Wait for it… NAPLAN! Ummah!
NAPLAN is loathed throughout the industry and beyond, what I think is actually really irrelevant, but what is not irrelevant is the data this testing brings. Data shows it brings stress to kids, parents and teachers alike. Data shows it spotlights a steady decline in the acquisition of facts; basic skills in literacy and mathematics are through the floor and one more thing; teachers are getting away with not properly teaching what students need to know. My goal here isn't to bag teachers but something this NAPLAN data shows me is, yes, teachers need to be more accountable for their classroom. The students and their deficiencies, the parents and their questions, the happiness and wellbeing of each within, and, of course, their own practice. For me, the data tells us all, teachers need to improve. NAPLAN tracks individual kids around the country but it doesn't reflect the teacher's impact. Yes, NAPLAN is a one-off test, but if students knew the content and were able to apply independently, the loathing of the test would dissipate. Let's not worry about teaching to the test, spoon feeding our students, let's just teach properly. Forget about collecting student data for a moment and collate teaching data. Stimulating the teachers will engage students, more testing helps no-one, in fact, it hinders the whole teaching sector from progression, the goal of data collection entirely.
With a greater focus on why we collect data, more privacy on who can access the data and more emphasis on direct and explicit employee professional care and development, high outcomes can, and will, be achieved. Collect data via surveying the people whom matter most, prioritise culture and outcomes will look after themselves. The purpose of data is to improve, let's get our heads out from behind the shadows of self-saving mode and promote quality professionals, working towards greater proficiency. Let's support the teacher who need help, challenge them to question and desire change, then maybe their students will. Resilient teachers, willing to make mistakes and take on feedback will go a long way to helping the rot. Put more emphasis on teaching teachers and the students' standards in academia will rise!
For the record, I do not like NAPLAN but here's some insight into some of "pro" arguments. The kids I had taught for a two-year period at a previous workplace from Year 5 to 6, broke all the school's records for Year 7 NAPLAN results the following year. A nice affirmation using externally sourced data. What's more exciting is, this would then be broken by the next group of kids I taught, who went into Year 7 the next year. How's that for data?