Driving Miss Daisy and Her Data

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

These days more than ever, data is driving our instruction. In this day of standardized testing, formative and summative assessment, MAP testing, and so much more—there’s a ton of data that follows our students everywhere. All of it has to make sense in order to be worthwhile, to not waste students’ time and educators’ efforts. However, not all student data that we collect is needed by every person at every moment—and here’s exactly where a well-developed data dashboard comes into play.

For many in education, ‘data dashboards’ are something new—but just think about a car for a minute. Driving along, you glance down. Just the right amount of data is always within easy view. While driving you can take a quick glimpse to find out how fast you’re going, how much gas is in the tank, what the engine temperature is at, if the lights are on, is the air low in your tires, and if any doors are still open. Sure, there’s much to know about how the car and the engine works, but we aren’t told everything—just what we need to get us safely from point A to point B. The dashboard doesn’t assume we’re a mechanic, it simply alerts us—in just a couple seconds—to what might stop us or slow us down.

As a vehicle for success, education might benefit from not just the analogy, but actual development of a good, solid data dashboard for educators and other professionals working with our students. Just the right amount of information within their view when they need it will help educators help our students reach academic proficiency in an effective and efficient manner. Teachers need access to all formative assessment, summative assessment, standardize tests, and much more.

Problem is, today’s teacher might see over 600 students in any given year; getting to know a single student may well be difficult. Some teachers have one-on-one time with the same individual student less than once a week. Now, let’s not forget to inundate them with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), content objectives, language objectives, rubrics, lesson plans, differentiated instruction and a wide variety of other must-be-dones and a teacher isn’t just out of time—they’re beginning to sleep less just to get half of it done.

Let’s break it down even further: during that 60-minute class that week, the teacher has to pay attention to about 25 students at any one given time. Assuming that there aren’t any students in the classroom demanding more of a teacher’s time than others, then a teacher can spend about 2.4 minutes with each student. Take away time for attendance, introduction to the lesson’s agenda and more—and it’s possible for students to go days without ever interacting with a teacher.

In The Secret Teacher Writes an Honest Letter Home one teacher hits the problem on the head. Our educational system is broken and we know it. Our educators know they are not able to reach the needs of our students but as the teacher states, “I am part of the System, and I had to confess.”

Collecting data, giving it to a teacher and asking them to dissect it, understand it, put it into action all on their planning period or after school is simply unrealistic. If you are an educator, you know: a planning period is often not for planning. It is for IEP meetings, parent meetings, phone calls, school activities and just about everything but planning. If teachers are expected to dive deeply into data and to understand it, then they should at least be able to take away what’s important and discard what’s irrelevant. What’s left is knowledge they can use to drive their instruction. That’s what “data driven instruction” is ideally all about.

In reality, all the data they collect or that is collected is usually input after the fact. It’s not real-time, so parts and pieces are forgotten, lost or simply made up. And in reality, teachers are mobile. It might not look that way in pictures, but teachers don’t stand in front of a chalkboard all day long, nor do they sit with clasped hands at a desk with a shiny red apple on the corner from 8:15 am to 2:30 pm. Often a teacher walks around the room trying to remember a student’s name, let alone useful data about that student.

When school lets out for students, they might begin to take a seat, jotting down what they can recall, and move on from there. They correct tests, record scores, gather additional information—all before they often leave for a second job in order to make ends meet.

Then, after getting off their second job, they get their own kids, or finish afterschool activities and finally have dinner. After getting their children off to bath and bed, they sit down to correct papers, provide comments, contact parents and more, but delving deep into data right before bed never ends well. Before they know it, they’re waking up to an unforgiving alarm clock to do it all over again.

It’s not a gift Ferrari, it’s no superhero, but the right technology can help make a teacher’s day a lot easier. By providing teachers with a solid data dashboard, we can help our teachers so much. Out of old habits already set forth, out of resistance to change, out of the same everyday pressures so many teachers feel, or out of whatever unhealthy place they are coming from—very few leaders are willing to make such an investment.

Nonetheless, imagine with me a day when a teacher can walk around the classroom connected to the intranet or Internet and speak a question that’s automatically transcribed, assigned to a student, responded to, and relayed back to the teacher to help a student.

With instant data collection, a teacher can pinpoint and diagnose student trouble points, know who lacks understanding in precisely what area, and offer up precise, on-the-spot, real-time remediation. With a teacher-held device, student data could pop up on their screen about the student in their immediate proximity. An RF tag in a student ID would assist in obtaining the most vital data for a teacher to help reach that child’s need at any given moment on any given day.

Funny thing is, all of this technology is already available, yet it doesn’t exist in the hands of our teachers. The best data dashboard for our teachers is one that they know they need, that we know we can provide for them, and that technologists know we can produce. The problem is, we’ve got to be willing to fund it. We have to be willing to invest in the technology that will give teachers the tools they really need. Without it, we’re spinning our wheels in the pit of data with nothing but remorse to show for it. We have a real chance to put our teachers in the driver’s seat. Why don’t we?


Greg Limperis, now Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district, was recently the Middle School Technology Facilitator in Lawrence, Mass., and founded the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. He has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st-century skills.


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