by Andrew Smith at Learning Out in the Open
Lately there have been a few words that have become ubiquitous in media discussions of education. That’s right: standards and data are everywhere when education comes up as a topic. Everything in education is either “standards-based” or “data-driven” no matter what the topic is. Whether it’s the adoption of a new set of standards or a supposedly well-intended instance of agitation, in education the words ‘standards’ and ‘data’ manage to resurface often. But in being given this opportunity to guest blog, the word that haunted the build-up toward approaching the topic of reconciling standards and 21st century learning was not standards but data. In a fit of 21st century research it can be found that data is defined as
(used with a plural verb) individual facts, statistics, or items of information: These data represent
the results of our analyses. Data are entered by terminal for immediate processing by the computer.
(used with a singular verb) a body of facts; information: Additional data is
available from the president of the firm.
In all of the angst that surrounds the lemming rush of educational systems surging to become standard-based data-driven entities the definition of data gains new importance. If data is simply a set of items of information, educators need to keep this fact in mind when the word ‘standard’ is wielded as a weapon. It is this writer’s fervent belief that educators everywhere really are doing good work with students every day. What has been lacking has been a succinct way to communicate this fact. Cynicism aside, testing and the use of data has arisen as a part of the problem that education wants for ways to articulate what it does. In the midst of heated editorial pages and town-hall levy meetings achievement testing has become a baleful blade possessed of precious few handles. But how much do those strident voices demanding accountability even know about what is on those tests?
The debate surrounding accountability and standards is often presented within a frame of binary solutions when what is truly needed is reconciliation. Wanting more for students is no more wrong than wanting a real assessment of learning. If education is to move forward and repair relationships with all stakeholders it must be with a sense of reconciliation. As Daniel Pink shows us, some surprising things can be learned from data particularly in relation to motivation.
But if the tests used to derive the data only reward lower-order thinking how can education survive when its very funding is tied to what some consider to be the antithesis of higher-order thinking? The answer lies within the word ‘data’. If data is a body of facts, education must use standards as a basis of learning not as a myopic and duplicitous lens. Data is present in everything education does. Data does not stop with a test score. But then how is the picture to be properly painted to all involved? How can accountability, standards, and the need for 21st Century skills be reconciled for all involved?
When you buy a machine that lets you consume digital content, you also buy a machine to produce it.
The binary distinction of student and teacher loses focus in the context of 21st Century technology and skills. If education is to repair the schism between 21st Century skills and standards-based education it must come through the sharing of data. The items of information for such sharing can come from the activities already going on in classrooms today. Data doesn’t have to come from a one-shot testing window; data can come from qualitative learning experiences that still use educational standards. But such sharing will require a change on the part of educators.
If educators are to reconcile educational standards in the context of a 21st century world, the “four walls syndrome” must cease. The times of saying that “ is just a fad” and will pass must become the past. No more closing the doors to the world and teaching within one set of four walls. To begin this reconciliation educators don’t have to be Scott McLeod, or Shelly Terrell, or Will Richardson. Your school doesn’t need to be on a laptop initiative or have a seamless online class management system. Use your cellphone to record a great student discussion, create a Facebook page for a class, have students concoct a Twitter hashtag to conduct larger discussion, or join a PLN yourself. But educators must share what is going on in their classroom with all stakeholders within the community and world around them. Isolation cannot be the default for those that feel educational data selection is subjective. Karl Fisch and others are taking steps to change educational paradigms; all you need to do is start to share the good that you do. Share this reconciliation of education with the people formerly known as the audience.
Andrew Smith is an English Language Arts educator in suburban Minnesota.