Thinking about Data: SOLC #18

Have you ever had the experience where you read a post on social media and it sends you down a rabbit hole of further exploration, thinking, and wanting to tell everyone you come across about what you found?

Laurie over at the San Marcos Writing Project Facebook page does an amazing job of posting current blog posts and articles related to education, writing, and connections among and beyond. It’s like an article-at-a-glance from so many different sources. I’m not really sure how she does it, but I totally appreciate her curation of relevant information. Every once in a while, one of the articles shared catches my attention and I find myself going into a deep, satisfying swan dive.

The title, The Trouble with Data, immediately got my attention today. In the piece, the blogger talks about data related to the COVID pandemic–the lack of it, the problems with it–based on a science article in the Atlantic–and then extrapolates it to education.

The three points, in both the Atlantic article and in the blog post, resonated with me and my own experiences with folks who value data (meaning numbers) over all other ways of knowing. The argument these data people always want to make is that data is objective, other ways of knowing are subjective. (Meaning, objective=good, subjective=bad)

Now, please be assured, I am not anti-data or anti-science. I simply always want to know where the numbers came from, how they are gathered, who made the decisions, and about decisions made about how they are displayed and explained. I’ve spent plenty of time in conversations with colleagues explaining that in these seemingly objective testing scenarios, the subjectivity can be found in the decisions made prior to giving the test–in the development of content, format, who is tested, etc.

The three points that I keep thinking about are:

1. All data are created; data never simply exist

2. Data are a photograph, not a window.

3. Data are just another type of information.

When I think about the ways testing data is used to describe our students, the ways it constrains teaching and learning with a huge emphasis on test prep and tremendous time spent away from teaching and learning that is instead spent on the testing process, and the ways what teachers and families know about students is diminished as irrelevant compared to those “snapshots,” I keep going back to my questions about where the data comes from. I encourage you to read and think about data and the ways it is presented–often without context, background, and transparency.

And one more tidbit–this one about some “learning loss” numbers being thrown out into our educational mix. Check out this article from Forbes about where the number–57 days of learning lost during the pandemic–came from.

A quote shared in the Atlantic article to chew on:

Data-driven thinking isn’t necessarily more accurate than other forms of reasoning, and if you do not understand how data are made, their seams and scars, they might even be more likely to mislead you.

My mind is swirling with so many thoughts. I might need a conversation group to talk through some of this!

4 thoughts on “Thinking about Data: SOLC #18

  1. chuizar

    I appreciate your swan dive into data, covid and school. I have also always felt constrained by the data we look at in school. I read an article on different levels of data, by Shane Shafir and that helped me see the value of “street data” in informing our teaching moves. Thanks for introducing me to new resources too.

  2. BethMooreSchool

    Thank you so much for these thoughts! Yes, yes, yes! This is an ongoing conversation that needs to keep going — especially with all the buzz regarding learning loss, recovery, and of course… Science of Reading… (I hardly even dare mention it for fear of the attacks from the SoR die-hards!) Yes, quantitative data can be revealing and helpful. But there are multiple ways to study a question–I love the previous comment regarding “street data.” Our experiences and observations in the classroom are valuable data as well.

  3. Stacey Shubitz

    I’m glad you went down the rabbit hole and then took us there with you. I think you have tremendous insights on data, which you summarized into three points at the end of your post. This is a convo we need to keep having!

  4. dogtrax

    “2. Data are a photograph, not a window.”
    Great insight … it creates tension with the data-driven society we live in, though. As a teacher, this insight that data only shows a frozen snapshot of time, not the whole experience, is key to understanding how data can be valuable but also fairly limiting.


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