Now there's a loaded word in education. What is data? Well, I think data is a tool (one of many) that can be used to assess where a student is in relation to his/her academic growth. It can be read well and tell a lot about a student, but it can also be misinterpreted. Data often gives educators and administrators a good place to start in assessing what a child needs.
But it can't end there (in my opinion). Isn't teacher observation -- I mean really close and documented teacher observation -- a valid evaluative device? Is it not regarded highly because it is not "scientific?" Is it not able to tell you anything "valid" about a child's overall growth?
I have a child in my first grade class who has made tremendous growth socially and emotionally. His academic growth in language arts is not quite as evident. Has he made the leaps deemed acceptable by the standards set for all learners his age? No. Has he demonstrated "grade level" understanding? No. Has he continued to climb in test scores at a rate deemed acceptable? Apparently not.
But have I seen him grow? Yes. Have I seen him raise his hand and take more risks - even though he may not have the correct answer? Yes. Have I seen his confidence improve? Yes. Do I see him on the cusp of a breakthrough? Yes. Will he be able to continue at his own pace until he is ready to bloom? No.
This beautiful little bud is being forced to bloom before his time. And instead of continuing to water him with understanding, patience and encouragement, he is being forced to try a "new approach." Why? Because he is not blooming fast enough for the parent advocate? He is making progress at his own pace. I see it working. Unfortunately I don't have the data to support what I "see." I don't have the data to support what I can intuitively feel. I don't have the data to support the numerous case studies I have witnessed over my many years of teaching which involve children who started out slow, eventually "broke the code" and went on to close the gap in their learning in relation to their peers at a later age.
Why does everyone have to progress at the same rate? Especially young children who have demonstrated a special need for more time? What is the rush? Why can't educators be allowed to use what they observe to be working? Why can't we be trusted? Why is switching approaches the only answer?
Now I know that switching teaching approaches has its merits. But I also see how it can be confusing for young minds. Connections that have just begun to form are no longer nurtured and may fade away. Scaffolded approaches which build upon one another are disregarded and the foundation of learning which has just begun to be built is left vacant. New approaches are implemented and learning has to start over from scratch. Does that make learning happen at a faster rate?
I just get a little dismayed when professional opinions are usurped by data, that's all. I want what's best for each individual student of mine. And I would love to have the chance to defend my beliefs, but alas, I have no data to support them...