Parents, Data, Children

Recently (last few years, at least) there has been a creeping assumption that data transparency is, of course, a good thing. That publication of data holds people and systems to account, and that in some cases people have a right to know. So, parents have a right to know how their children are doing at school. I don’t disagree with the sentiments (although I don’t think it is a ‘right’), but I do think we need to think carefully about what we really think parents need to be told, what information should be passed on.

There is a strong tendency for the generation of quantitative data. This is understandable, as quantitative data is relatively easy to compare. There is, however, a false sense of worthiness associated with quantitative data. The truthiness of quantitative data can be difficult to get at. People rarely seem to ask themselves what the data mean, especially if that data is from an apparently authoritative source, and if it is generated and released in the cause of transparency. I would contend, though, that it is always worth asking the question…and to consider the answers proffered very carefully.

Let’s consider levels. It is now widely believed that as quantitative measures, levels are problematic. Due to the difficulty in assigning levels, and the variation obtained from the same students over a relatively small period of time, levels communicate uncertain knowledge. Some would say that levels are, in fact, meaningless, or even very misleading. So much so, that the Government has decided to abolish them. However, they will be replaced with another quantitative measure. Indeed, many schools have no idea what to do until the new measure arrives, and so are likely to continue using levels until then.

Should such quantitative data be shared with parents (and students)? My view is that great care should be taken over this. Any quantitative data shared with parents and students must be fully contextualised. That is, its meaning should be discerned, understood and shared. It must be clear what the data is fit for before it is shared…..because people will usually take this data seriously…..even when it is effectively meaningless.

If there is a problem with quantitative edudata, what information can be usefully shared with parents? There is plenty of non-quantitative data that can be shared, which would inform parents and students what progress is being made and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the student. It should be relatively easy to say what, broadly, a student needs to do to make (better) progress. This information is likely to be, ultimately, more useful and satisfying to all concerned, isn’t it?


4 thoughts on “Parents, Data, Children

  1. scientificjazz

    Nice post. I think I agree – “we need numbers, NUMBERS!” has become standard at the expense of real meaning. Certainly interpreting them often requires more stats knowhow than most of us have. Feels as though you may be swimming against the tide though; can you see a route back to more information-grounded thinking?

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Thank you for your comments. I can, indeed, see a route to more information-grounded thinking. The Dfe have recently (yesterday, in fact) awarded grants to 9 schools that have developed new approaches to assessment, so that those approaches can be made easily available to all schools:

      These should all be better than levels, and even where quantitative should seek to link those numbers to readily discernible characteristics. It will be up to schools (at least initiality) to decide what approach to adopt. Hopefully, all the exemplar methods will have meaningfulness at the centre of their being…..

      1. scientificjazz

        Thanks for the reply and for the link – reads very positively indeed. And hopefully you’re right that – even with the lack of a wider instructive to push momentum in this direction – the schools involved will be bold enough to deviate from the norm.

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