When it comes to tracking a student's performance in order to improve her learning experience, the more information the better, right? Not always. While having a more complete picture of how well each student is learning may help educators tailor their teaching methods to better serve that individual, having too much available data can actually deter the progress of some students. That's not to say that collecting and using student data isn't important — just that the secret to successfully improving learning outcomes through data collection may lie in moderation.
As "data-driven" education becomes more popular, critics are also raising a range of concerns.
The U.S. Department of Education has increasingly encouraged and funded states to collect and analyze information about students: grades, state test scores, attendance, behavior, lateness, graduation rates and school climate measures like surveys of student engagement. In its recent announcement of new regulations, the department emphasizes "ensuring the use of multiple measures of school success based on academic outcomes, student progress, and school quality."
The education technology industry, meanwhile, keeps making it easier for teachers to record and share information on students. Check out the "dashboards" inside programs like Google Apps for Education, or freestanding gradebook apps like JumpRope, or ClassDojo, focused on behavior.We're starting to hear more about what might be lost when schools focus too much on data. Here are five arguments against the excesses of data-driven instruction.
A body of psychology research shows that merely being reminded of one's group identity, or that a certain test has shown differences in performance between, say, women and men, can be enough to depress outcomes on that test for the affected group. This is known as stereotype threat.
In a highly data-driven classroom, students who struggle may be made acutely aware, to the percentile, of how far behind the average they are. This could be enough to trigger stereotype threat, depressing performance still more. Or, it could create negative feelings about school, threatening students' sense of belonging, which is key to academic motivation.
And what about the students who are leading the dashboard, collecting badges, prizes or virtual stickers? These kinds of extrinsic rewards could depress their interest in an activity for its own sake, researchers have found.
Today, parents increasingly are receiving daily text messages with photos and videos from the classroom. And some software systems let them log on and see exactly how Jasper or Alaia are performing, assignment by assignment, even down to the number of minutes spent reading or practicing Spanish.
A style of overly involved "intrusive parenting" has been associated in studies with increased levels of anxiety and depression when students reach college. "Parent portals as utilized in K-12 education are doing significant harm to student development," argues college instructor John Warner in a recent piece for Inside Higher Ed.
3. Commercial monitoring and marketing
Have you ever been served an ad in the middle of your English homework? The National Education Policy Center releases annual reports on commercialization and marketing in public schools. In its most recent report in May, researchers there raised concerns about targeted marketing to students using computers for schoolwork and homework.
The authors of the NEPC report observed:
"Schools have proven to be a soft target for data gathering and marketing. Not only are they eager to adopt technology that promises better learning, but their lack of resources makes them susceptible to offers of free technology, free programs and activities, free educational materials, and help with fundraising."
4. Missing what data can't capture
Computer systems are most comfortable recording and analyzing quantifiable, structured data. The number of absences in a semester, say; or a three-digit score on a multiple-choice test that can be graded by machine, where every question has just one right answer.
But what about a semester-long group project where one student overcame her natural tendency to procrastinate, excelled in the design and construction of Odysseus's ship out of cardboard, but then plagiarized part of the explanatory text? What about a student who manages "only" 10 absences despite changing living situations three times during the semester? Can dashboards reflect these complexities?
5. Exposing students' "permanent records"
In the past few years several states have passed laws banning employers from looking at the credit reports of job applicants. Employers want people who are reliable and responsible. But privacy advocates argue that a past medical issue or even a bankruptcy shouldn't unfairly dun a person who needs a fresh start.
Similarly, for young people who get in trouble with the law, there is a procedure for sealing juvenile records, because it's understood that even grave mistakes shouldn't haunt young people forever.
Educational transcripts, unlike credit reports or juvenile court records, are currently considered fair game for gatekeepers like colleges and employers. These records, though, are getting much more detailed.
Arguably, they more closely resemble credit reports, court records or even psychological dossiers.— Anya Kamenetz via NPR Ed
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