Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Longitudinal Data Collection

From eSchoolNews:
President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have emphasized the need for all states to implement longitudinal data systems to track the progress of students from kindergarten through college and the workforce. Those data systems also would link students to their respective teachers and help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses within their districts.
I like this idea in theory, but it is rife with dangers to the teacher, school and student. I have no faith in the goodwill intentions of those who are proposing this nor in those who will implement it. It feels like some think tank took a decent idea and extrapolated too far. I don't think they're thought this one through.

Considering teachers, I am focusing on "link students to their respective teachers and help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses"
  1. What of the teacher who is assigned the weaker kids in the first place because he is the better teacher - is my teaching them multiplication as value-added as your teaching them polynomial factorization?
  2. What if the weakness is administrative? One of my peeves is the guidance counselor who can't decide if the "consumer math" class is for seniors who have completed algebra 2 / pre-calculus or for the kid who can't pass algebra 1 -- and they're both in the same class. How do we account for this?
  3. How do we measure the teacher who is primarily pre-calculus / calculus and whose students are primarily seniors - they're past the test, having passed the test? Is this person a weakness?
  4. What of the teacher whose material isn't yet tested? History, Art, Music, Languages, IEP/504
  5. Just for laughs, what of the kid whose parent has overruled his teacher's placement recommendations? Whose fault is it that he's struggling and not learning as much as he might?
  6. I don't know about you-all, but some kids up here change teachers during their high school career. I don't want to be saddled with the test results for a kid who's been in my math class for 1 month, especially if he's transferred out of Mr. Loser's class into mine specifically because he wanted a better teacher.
For the student, I have concerns about the security of the data and the inputs:
  1. How long will it be before we have the kid's entire life on one database and schools start selling adspace and selling the database to marketers. It's already happening with iGoogle and student editions of Google Mail. How long before someone sells access to the better math students? or the better writers? There are ways to serve the ads that wouldn't violate FERPA. This is not a good thing.
  2. The schools are notoriously bad at security now - how can they possibly hope to keep all this correct? Think of the story last week of the mother who changed grades to promote her daughter's standing - do you want to trust that same woman and the thousands like her to be perfect? If the data is internal, the damage is limited to transcripts and such - easily caught because it's local. If the correction takes a while, then the damage is likewise local. Can you imagine the State catching those errors? The State can't even figure out how many kids attend a school or what the graduation rate is. They have to depend on fallible humans. Garbage in, garbage out.
  3. Credit card companies and banks get hacked. Do we really think that Mrs. Smith in the main office is similarly motivated, trained and able to keep things secure? You know her, she's the one with the post-it note passwords?
  4. Have your ever tried to correct your address at school? You walk in, say "Hi" and tell them the new address. How about doing that at the state level? What of the kid who changes his name midstream. Or changes schools, or changes religions and adopts a new name? Or goes to live with the other parent in a different district? state?

What of the records from private schools or charter schools or homeschools - is this just another way to smack down the public schools while promoting schools that can't be measured but are assumed to be good "just because they're parochial and everyone knows they're good"?

Other thoughts:

They want to also include college - how? The kid is over 18, is paying for college, and even his own parents can't see his records if he doesn't give consent.

Don't even get me started on tracking a student up to, into and through the workforce. Creepy and over-reaching are the nicest terms I can think of. Certainly, it's the only one I should use publicly.

Let's end with this:

One big-ass system to track students. How's that working out for you, NYC?

Before I dump everything into this happy little database - can we please make sure it works?

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