Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Poor uses of student data and punitive approaches to accountability

In a new report by two professors at Boston College, Data-Driven Improvement and Accountability, authors Andy Hargreaves, the Thomas More Brennan Professor of Education in the Lynch school of Education, and Henry Braun, the Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy in the Lynch School of Education, find that the use of data in the U.S. is too often limited to simply measuring short-term gains or placing blame, rather than focusing on achieving the primary goals of education. The report is published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), which is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The report’s findings have national significance because data-driven improvement and accountability (DDIA) strategies in schools and school systems are now widespread. When used thoughtfully, DDIA provides educators with valuable feedback on their students’ progress by pinpointing where the most useful interventions can be made. DDIA also can give parents and the public accurate and meaningful information about student learning and school performance.

However, in the United States, measures of learning are usually limited in number and scope, and data suggesting poor performance schools and teachers are often used punitively. The new report explains how the current system of student data collection more often than not creates “perverse incentives” for educators to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test and allocate their efforts disproportionately to students who yield the quickest test-score gains, rather than those with the greatest needs.

The end result, the authors find, is double jeopardy:

-First, accountability impedes improvement. Under pressure to avoid poor scores and unpleasant consequences, many educators concentrate their efforts on narrow tasks such as test preparation and coaching targeted at students whose improved results will contribute most to their schools’ test-based indicators.

- Second, accountability is undermined because there is a clear incentive to “game the system” to get scores up quickly.

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