School Data: A puzzle or a mystery?

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Over the last couple of weeks I have tweeted on a couple of occasions regarding data in schools. Most of the tweets revolved around the fact that the importance of data and in particularly standardised data such as EMSA and PISA is often stated. As such a fascination seems to have developed with number crunching through detailed student performance data followed by the creation of colourful pie and bar charts with the occasional line graph thrown in for good measure. Now my tweets focused on the fact that I feel educators are being sucked into this world of data, and in some cases are pouring over these tables, charts and graphs for hours on end, presenting them to all who will listen. This time spent looking at data to me seems to be a distraction from what is really important which is student learning. I accept that we need some data to know how students are doing and progressing however I think we need to balance this against the more important task which is key to schools; teaching.     If the data takes hours of time to analyse or if it doesn’t result in changes or action within lessons is it worth it?

It was while listening to Malcolm Gladwells what the dog saw, on the usual journey to work, that something struck me. We are treating student performance and the need to improve it as what Gladwell described as a puzzle. A puzzle according to Gladwell is solved through gathering additional information. As such our fascination with data and having more and more data in the hope of more insight and therefore better results seems logical. However, Gladwell also describe Mysteries; these are situations which are not solved through more data or more information but through the insightful use of what we do know. It is at this point that it struck me; student performance is a mystery not a puzzle. We cannot solve it through more data and in fact all this will do will detract from the core task at hand in schools; teaching. We instead need to focus on using what we do know and have readily available to draw insightful conclusions which we can action.

One thing, it strikes me, stands in the way of this and this is the dreaded school management system. It is designed to gather all the data you will ever need into table after table of grades, scores and criteria achievement. Some will even create the pretty charts and graphs for you. The issue at hand is the usability of these systems. The way they present data requires analysis. It is not instantly user friendly for teachers who want to be able to view data and draw conclusions quickly and on the move. It is my belief that school management systems need to be redesigned. Now, to that end I have started to build a concept for a new more intuitive and user friendly school management system focusing first and foremost on the teacher in the class.

Please if you have any suggestions or would like to contribute ideas to what the ideal school information or school management system should look like and do, etc get in touch.


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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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