Data Literacy: It Doesn't Take an Einstein

Data Literacy: It Doesn't Take an Einstein

It seems everybody hates tests these days.

Only 14% of parents think standardized testing is very important in evaluating schools1, making it slightly less popular than used car salesmen and the U.S. Congress, but two points more popular than North Korea. The testing community thanks you, Kim Jong Un!

In his “15 Reasons Standardized Tests Are Worthless,”2 Thomas Armstrong claims that standardized tests reduce the richness of human experience, entice children to cheat, and (interestingly) that Albert Einstein never created a standardized test.

Not to be outdone, the Washington Post published “34 Problems with Standardized Tests,”3 stating that they encourage bribery, violate core American values, and “waste the vast creative potential of human variability.”

Who could possibly support such a scourge on America’s children and values?

Avant VP for Education and Assessment Kyle Ennis beckons me over to his computer screen. “Look at the STAMP data for this class. We can tell this teacher ‘Hey, you have a couple of kids needing some intervention here.’  And then here’s a kid nearly two standard deviations above the norm. He should be in a higher class.”

Ennis may not be Albert Einstein (better hair) but he certainly cares about kids’ success and understands the power of good assessment practices to help make that happen.

“It all comes down to data literacy,” he says, “the ability of teachers to understand proficiency data, put that data in context, and apply it to improve teaching and learning.”

Combining Avant STAMP data with local demographic information, teachers and districts can address important educational questions, such as:

•   How are special ed kids doing compared with the rest of the population?

•   Which students are reaching the proficiency goals we have for various courses? Which aren’t?

•   What about the achievement gap? Are heritage and non-heritage speakers performing at the same level?

What about the achievement gap? Is one particular group of kids performing at the same level as another?

Avant STAMP results provide a common measuring stick allowing teachers and districts to compare and contrast across classrooms, schools, and demographic groups. STAMP data doesn’t just sort out successful students from struggling ones, but provides a reflective tool to inform practice. Every teacher has a different grading scheme, but with STAMP data, we can all speak a common language to talk about student proficiency and tackle tough problems together.

“The key is to put the data in the hands of teachers,” says Ennis. “They are ones who understand the local context and can put it to good use to improve learning.”

So why are standardized tests so unpopular?

“Tests aren't the problem, it's how tests are used that is the problem,” says Ennis.

When tests are used to punish schools, teachers and parents get defensive - with good reason. What a waste of data!

Avant takes a different approach: Share the results directly with teachers, help them develop higher levels of data literacy, and become a partner in school improvement.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to see the wisdom in that.


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