By Mark Geary


May 4, 2010

There is a strong push in educational administration to use data driven decision making. On the surface, it looks to be a very sound concept. What are the test scores, what subsections are strongest, what needs to be improved? In the test driven educational environment, it is difficult to argue with those priorities.
Yet as educators, we know there are always two faces to tests. There are the hard scores, ideally (But not always – see Texas ) based on non-politicized, well researched questions, and there is the story of the individual students, some of whom make heroic gains while struggling against incredibly difficult home lives to make substantial gains.
We have always known about this in education, and consequently, research has branched into two widely respected fields, quantitative research, (by the numbers) and qualitative research (by the case, or individual). My concern and the concern of many is that we have gone too far to the side of numerical analysis, and over reliance on test scores, and have ignored the qualitative aspects.
So why write about this in an Adobe blog? Because Adobe provides a tremendous amount of qualitative support options for education. Acrobat’s ePortfolio capabilities provide educators a chance to look in-depth at what students are doing, how they are doing it, and how they reflect upon that process. While it is not the only tool around for doing this, it is certainly an effective one.
When looking at the Adobe product line, there are many, many tools that assist in the achievement of higher order thinking skills, and 21st century skills and few that contribute to quantitative analysis. This is because it is harder to measure higher order thinking quantitatively, not because of any lack in the toolset. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the new digital divide emerging, one where rich kids go to school to learn how to tell the computer what to do, and to create, and one where poor kids go to school, and learn how to take orders from the computer, and how to do worksheets in a computer.
What experiences would you like your child to have? What products have they produced this school year?


  • By Eva LaMar - 5:19 PM on May 9, 2010  

    Data-driven decision making works up to a point. Once state assessments are the main driving point, then we are teaching to the test and measuring how well teachers have taught to that one test.
    Data has a funny way of being biased to its own purpose. Principals being held accountable for higher test scores….. fewer behavior problems… and other ‘data’ focused details are finding ways to ensure that the ‘data’ reflects what is necessary for job security.
    The media somehow jumps on the bandwagon and doesn’t ask the necessary questions about the ‘results’ of state testing scores. When we know that the NUMBER ONE INFLUENCE on a child’s success at school is the home life, the parents, why is there no way to factor that into a school’s scores? At my high-poverty school we have parents who don’t get their kids to school, send the kids hungry, and keep the kids up until the early hours of the morning. These same parents don’t turn up to parent conferences, IEP meetings, or other events. By the time a child gets to high school the damage has been done- by the parents.
    Yet, our data shows nothing of this influence. How can a school make up for poor parenting? How can a school’s data reflect the greatest influence on a child, the parents and home life?
    Do we ignore these factors because people some of these families are our friends? Our own families? Why do we ignore this data and just base teacher and school success off of test scores?
    Curious and frustrated in Oregon,

    • By Alex Ledford - 3:06 AM on December 17, 2012  

      I feel your confusion and share your frustration. There are so many wonderful insights that data can provide for us, yet there is something pure mathematical data lacks, the “human element.” I feel strongly that the real problem isn’t so much that we are collecting data or using it to support our decisions, but rather, that these decisions and data collections fall into the category of “high-stakes.” I’m sorry, but as a professional educator, I’m fairly certain that the only thing we should consider “high-stakes” is the success of our students in LIFE.

  • By Chris Betcher - 5:14 AM on May 19, 2010  

    This is a good point and one that’s worth reminding us of. Far too often we are fixated on working only on the parts of education that we can “measure” with numbers and charts and graphs.
    Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts.” It’s very true. There are MANY aspects of learning for which the quality of what our students experience is the real point, and not whether they raise their test scores by 3%. There is a great deal to be said for the idea that students might ENJOY learning more, might feel more immersed in a learning process, or may bemore engaged and interested because of the way they learn. It may be that none of this translates directly into elevated test scores immediately, but there are for more important things that we could be gauging our success upon.
    Good post, thanks for writing it.

  • By Jewell Arif - 11:06 PM on June 10, 2010  

    I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but I’m starting to see things differently.