COMMENTARY On-the-News
GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, TERC Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison

Michelle_Rhee_at_NOAA

Rhee speaking at NOAA, June 2008

The recent media outcry about whether or not Michele Rhee, former Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, exaggerated her students’ test scores has died down a bit this week. But in mulling over last week’s news (See Larry Ferlazzo’s The Best Posts About Michelle Rhee’s Exaggerated Test Scores), I’m reminded of a simple measurement a long-time teacher friend uses before making any important education decision. She calls it the “What’s the Point” (WTP) assessment. She even considered having t-shirts made to remind us always to consider WTP before deciding what we teach and why.

Let’s set aside all the press, subsequent commentary, and or own feelings about the Rhee controversy. It’s not all that useful a discussion. But it does surface, for me, three WTPs.  These points are the bottom line for using data, reporting data, or discussing data for any meaningful purpose, and they might even resonate with those who regularly caution that test scores are unreliable gauges of performance.

1. Our data sources must be truthful and dependable, or we lose credibility despite our sincerest efforts. (Right Michelle?)

2. Our data analysis and reporting must be reliable, or it fails to serve those who matter most…our students; not to mention that our improvement efforts can be charted off course. (See Data Driven and Off Course by Roxanna Elgin.)

3. Assessing need and monitoring progress must be ongoing and dependent on consulting multiple data sources, including local data, not just summative high-stakes tests. (See Mike Schmoker’s comments about the importance of targeted, short-term cycles of improvement, and hear a curriculum skills specialist discuss multiple assessments and how they are used at a school in TX.)

I fear that the high stakes placed on certain test scores is causing us to focus on making the numbers—and ourselves—look good (…or bad, depending on what the headline-makers are trying to accomplish), rather than using data to pinpoint student learning problems, further develop dedicated teachers, and ultimately help all students. As Diana Nunnaley, Director of TERC’s Using Data, reminds us, “Keep in mind that data alone have no meaning. We must transform data into meaningful action.”

We may not agree about whether Rhee exaggerated her test scores, but can we agree that that’s really not the point?

(Related article: It’s Not What You’ve Got; It’s What You Do With What You’ve Got.)