Measuring the right things

I’ve just read a fascinating publication from Microsoft titled “Interoperability: Improving Education” which came about as a result of 10 or so educators and ICT practitioners who were brought together by Microsoft for a meeting running alongside the annual NAACE conference held in Blackpool, England, earlier this year. The brief was to talk about the way that schools use pupil data. And the wisdoms that ensued are contained in an new Microsoft discussion document for school leaders and local authorities, “Interoperability: Improving schools” (download the PDF here).

The contents of this paper provide timely insights for NZ educators because it nicely ties together two pieces of work that are currently the focus of the Ministry of Education. First are the discussions about standardised testing, and the measurement of student progress and achievement, and second are the issues of interoperability as they relate to work being done around data interoperbility between LMSs and SMSs in schools, and the whole area of e-portfolios.

From its title, and the fact that it’s published by a technology company, you could be forgiven for thinking that the document is about a technology solution that will end all our woes. This is not the case. Instead, the document contains a summary of thoughts in response to questions such as:

  • are we collecting the right data?
  • what data should we be collecting?
  • who needs, or wishes to see the data?
  • can we easily move data to where it’s wanted or needed?

The context for the discussion is identified in this excerpt from the introduction:

The last five years has been dominated by discussions about common file formats, and competing systems which support data interchange standards. The International Standards community, through its work on file standards, has helped us reach a situation where students and teachers can easily share assignments, examination submissions and documents.

The same cannot be said for simple data interchange – for example, the simple requirement to automate the process of keeping a list of users up to date within a learning platform without a manual intervention. And those solutions which do exist for this appear to need customisation for each data relationship – between different learning platforms for example.

I believe that we are collecting the data within our educational systems that we need to deliver
improvement, but only those data items that are being seen as “part of the system”. We collect a core of formal learning data in our schools Management Information Systems, and through other systems we collect further datapoints – often disconnected from the core learning data – on health, achievement and engagement.

In the 21st Century, we are seeing a huge growth in learning and engagement outside of the formal education system. As we continue to build extensive connected learning communities, we need to find ways to see the holistic story of a truly connected learner, including their learning in school, in the community and individually. We need to move from a top-down data culture (ie we measure what the managers above us want measured) to an individually driven data culture, where the individual has more input to the data that tells their individual story, and where their past learning journey is used to support their future learning journey.

To achieve this we need to think outside of the strict confines of top-down, organisational data collection. We need to ask questions from a different perspective “How can students self-asses their skills and use that to improve their learning?” and “If we asked a student to tell us how they are doing at school, what data would they share with us?”

I am currently enjoying being a part of separate discussions (online and offline) around each of the issues identified above – but perhaps there’s good cause to reflect here and think about how timely it might be to work like this think tank, and engage in some robust discussions that actually  link both parts of the equation?

Perhaps it would allow us to reach similar conclusions as the English did as a basis for moving forward:

The answer, as it emerged in discussion, is that there‟s arguably too much emphasis on one kind of data. The current pattern of top-down accountability, it‟s suggested creates an emphasis on classroom attainment at the expense of skills and competencies. Or, as Sir Mark Grundy puts it,  “We’re measuring the wrong things.”

2 thoughts on “Measuring the right things

  1. A timely blog entry when I have been giving much thought to assessment measures that empower the individual and provide motivation for possible next learning steps. We recently held a pilot with 5 classroom teachers trialling student led conferences where the teacher was available but not present. Student ran around an hour long session with their parents explaining how they were going in their learning and what their next learning steps were. Parents were involved in wide range of experiences including trying out science experiments, assessing a piece of writing using the students success criteria, viewing students online forums and leaving a comment to hearing about their child’s report grades. In videoing student responses before and after the experience it was enlightening to hear how great it was for them that they really had to take responsibility and own their learning. A students words of – before the teacher did all the talking, now I have to really know my goals and what my next learning steps are. Parents were delighted and proud of the ownership their children took. Our teachers response was – please don’t make us do 3 way conferences like before. Such a strategy highlights the importance of students being at the centre. In the build up to the conferences no assessment was done to the individual, rather they were an active part in building knowledge of themselves as a learner.
    Secondly it brought about the very question posed in this blog entry – what should students share? What is important data to present to all stakeholders? As the journey continues I hope the weighting doesn’t swing back to being solely on Literacy and Numeracy as the mental models most have around how to assess these ares are steeped in history and top down approach. Our recent developments in producing learning progressions in foundation learning areas that acknowledge the complexity of learning (not linear and about hopping through hoops) are our best crack at motivating any learner to progress learning by being able to answer, how am I going, where am I going and where to next? Kids need to experience stretch everyday! Once web based material, dlos are linked to learning intentions in kid friendly language , forums for learners to collaborate etc are developed then the world of data starts to become the child’s.
    Anyway, long entries aren’t much fun – bit passionate about this one! Always keen to dialogue some more.

  2. Hi Sarah – thanks for the detailed comment – we have lots to talk about 😉 Love your example of student’s facilitating their own conferencing – and pondering the same question as you: “what should students share?”
    For me there’s an interesting extra dimension that creeps in here – one that arises as we use more of the ICT tools at our disposal for students to record and share their work, and that is how much of the sharing will/should be formative and when is it appropriate to do something more summative? I think educators often struggle with this. We talk a lot about ‘assessment for learning”, and the idea that any assessment should ultimately inform future areas for development and strategies to get us there, but I think we sometimes miss the subtle difference between the ongoing, formative approaches we use and the times when it’s appropriate to “take stock” and do some sort of summative assessment – whether as part of a ‘bench-marking’ exercise or to mark the end of a phase of learning before the learner moves on to another school for instance.
    As students and their parents become more informed about the process of sharing in the developmental process online, I think we’ll see a number of different strategies emerge that – and the students who’ve had the sorts of experiences you outline in your comment will be among the early adopters 🙂
    Keep up the good work!

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