What Are We Measuring in Education?

I recently came across the practice having a “data room” in schools.

These rooms provide teachers and administrators quantitative information (in graphic form) to facilitate “informed” decisions.

I have to admit, the site of the “data room” gave me that “something doesn’t feel right” sensation in my stomach.

How has it come to be that, for some, data rooms in school are seen as exemplars in education?

If it’s true that we measure what we value – it might be time to examine our values.

Let me be clear – I am not advocating that we make uninformed decisions.  We need good information to make the best decisions for our students.

My concern is that we (teaching professionals, politicians and other stakeholders)  are moving towards considering only certain types of data – usually those that are easy to measure – when we consider the quality of our schools, school systems and the teachers that teach within them.

The real danger is that this “easy to measure data” is driving the type questions we are asking about our schools and the subsequent change initiatives that flow from such questions. 

For example, the dependence on quantitative data usually leads to questions regarding graduation rates, standardized test results, retention rates, attendance rates etc.

While these data sets should not be dismissed – they do not tell the full story of any school system or school and their labeling as a “success or failure”.

We should NOT measure only that which is easy to measure.

Perhaps we should also start taking into account  such things as:

  •  students’ sense of curiosity and wonder
  • students’ motivation, engagement and passion
  • students’ sense of joy, happiness and safety
  • collaboration in schools
  • students’ sense of self efficacy

The Role of Leadership

This is where school leadership plays a critical role.  Today, more than ever, school leaders need to be guardians of their school’s complete narrative – beyond that which can be displayed in a data room.

What can’t be measured and shared quantitatively can be measured and shared qualitatively through meaningful narratives.

School leaders need to use all the tools available to them (including social media) to share that which isn’t easily measured but has enduring value nonetheless.

Today’s school leaders need to find a balance between measuring and  reporting on both the quantitative and qualitative data that abounds in schools   This is our moral imperative.


This is Johnny’s first post on Connected Principal.  The post was originally posted on Figuring It Out  @jvbevacqua

22 comments for “What Are We Measuring in Education?

  1. October 10, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Great post! Measuring these things in any standardized way, especially in an age of customized, personalized learning will be difficult. It will take a new generation of performance assessments or the recognition that innovative practice can be validated at the school level and scaled up through the network.

  2. October 10, 2012 at 5:53 am

    In India with the largest youth population, this is a perspective some of us are looking at: with a low GER and high dropouts and extreme economic pressures, it is still Curiosity, Wonder, efficacy at a skill which will hold them to school or a profession
    For the scale of issue we have here any pointers ?

  3. October 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Wow! This is really woke me up this morning. It is validating and inspiring to hear other educators embedded in the same struggle I am on a daily basis. Your thoughts bring up many great starting points for a discussion with administration about what do we value and are we doing what is best for students? Capturing “meaningful narratives” will inevitably more powerful than the Data Room because students can clearly recognize their own learning, numbers will never allow for that. How do we present this to other teachers and begin to walk them out of the darkness and into the light?

    • October 23, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      Hi Vince
      Thanks for commenting. Your question is a good one. There is no simple answer. I do think that professional educators do need to reclaim the narrative in education – that might help. I also think as educators we need to look the science of learning (brain based learning) to help us justify the value qualitative data to measure learning

  4. Tinashe Nyahasha
    October 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Interesting discussion. I am concerned though because in Africa we are not really measuring anything at all, even the easy parameters! I wonder how our education will survive the fast paced technological developments, but it has to. @TNyahasha

  5. October 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I think data rooms are probably illegal. A student’s scores that can be read by anyone wandering through seems like a confidentiality violation. I know my teacher will see my scores, but why should they be posted for other staff to see and maybe students if the room isn’t well supervised. Crappy tests produce crappy data. It’s about that simple. Teachers need to create effective formative assessments to inform instruction for each student and ignore standardized tests until our culture wakes up and ditches them. If you want support, read my summary of “The Myths of Standardized Tests” at http://bit.ly/jsnEJb Keep up the good work.

  6. October 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Great article! This brings to mind struggles I’m having with my edtech startup. Our product, Mootup.com, focuses on argumentative writing. This is an area that is in VERY early stages in finding decent ways to assess it at the level that PARCC and Smarter Balanced are going for. Writing has always been a skill that is difficult to quantitatively assess, with few objectively measurable sub-skills. That makes it more of a challenge to prove the helpfulness of a product that focuses on writing skills.

  7. Bobs your Uncle
    October 23, 2012 at 2:28 am

    If you want qualitative data, here it is:

    You don’t know the difference between ‘Qualitative’ and ‘Quantitative’.

    If you want quantitative data, then here it is:

    You used ‘Qualitative’ where you should have used ‘Quantitative’ in 2 out of 2 instances, or 100% of the time.

    If we use any kind of data, we need to be sure it is telling us what we THINK it is. That usually means neither Quality data (qualitative) or Quantity data (quantitative) is, by itself, sufficient.

    Frankly, I worry more about people who want NO numbers than I do those who want ONLY numbers, although both are dangerous and mis-informed about the true nature of analysis.

    • October 23, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      I am not suggesting having “NO numbers”. An over-dependence and over-reliance on “numbers” to measure the value of any educational system or school does little to honour the the true nature of learning

  8. Michael
    November 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    very interesting article and I agree to an extent. I think your assertion is partially correct in that too much emphasis is being placed on valuing only those skills which can be measured, but I would counter that for many school districts this is a necessary process. In most cases, when we look at those skills which can be measured, the results are disgraceful, and have been for a very long time. The use – or perhaps the misuse – of data is often seen in the narrative that follows the collection of data, and this is the narrative that needs to be rewritten. The collection and anlaysis of data should be an enlightening event for schools, but the misuse and misunderstanding of data is rampant in our systems. Our leaders are poorly versed in data analsis and often jump to conclusions after reading just one article, one book, or attending one seminar.

    The true use of data in the decision making process should focus on deepening our understanding of the learning process, not devaluing or discouraging creativity or curiousity in our students. I agree that this has been the impact we’re seeing in the classroom, but “data” is not to blame for this–in this sense it’s a classic “false driver”- in my opinion this is the result of poor and misguided leadership more than anything else.

  9. jalupraful
    February 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks. Really its very interesting.

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