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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Advantage and Disadvantage of Multiple Data Points

Throughout the math year, students take a large number of assessments. The assessments assess students' knowledge with regard to instruction and their growth. Again, as noted yesterday, I'm not a test metrics expert, but I do know that there are advantages and disadvantages related to all of these assessments.

An advantage of these assessments is that I know each child's performance needs and strengths quite well. I can look at my data chart and quickly tell you who has mastered specific math skills and who is still working on those skills. I can also point out where students have made gains with regard to math skills and which students need a different kind of program or lesson to assist their growth. This data helps me to plan lessons, communicate with interested family members, and coach students.

On the other hand, multiple data points means multiple, varied assessments, and for some students this is frustrating. Some students compare their performance scores with other students, and this can foster a healthy competition for some and an unhealthy competition amongst others. These assessments also open up the conversation about what it means to be a learner and the sometimes the ever present and daunting truth that we all have more to learn--there's always room for growth.

To be successful today is less about the A than it is about the learner's mindset, attitude, and action. This is a big shift for students, families, and even some colleagues. I'm interested in positive, confident progression. I don't want to see scores get students down or tire students out, instead I want students to see these assessments as one lens to their overall learning, one way to assess current knowledge and need. This "growth mindset" and "productive struggle" discussion is important to foster both with students and family members.

I was that student who mostly did well until I was quite old in school. Then I finally hit a big challenge spot towards the end of college. If I had learned how to learn and how to face academic struggle, questions, curiosity, and passion early on, I think my learning path would have been stronger, deeper, and more rewarding. We want all students to experience the process of learning whether they are the strongest student with the grade-level expectations of the student who struggles the most with that content. We also want all students to see themselves as whole people for which strictly grade-level standards and academic expectations are only one piece of who they are as talented, valuable people. We want children to see themselves as learners who have a lot of say and strength when it comes to their personal paths of learning and living.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of multiple data points, and we have to stay mindful about how we assess students, how we use those assessments to further student growth, and the ways we talk about the assessments too. Let me know if you have anything to add to this conversation.