April 24, 2023

Gregory Sampson: On The Toxicity Of Data Worship

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Gregory Sampson blogs from Florida as Grumpy Old Teacher. In a recent post, he considers the rumors around the possible departure of the district’s superintendent. But rather than talk about termination, he addresses concerns shared by schools everywhere.

The issues teachers have with district leadership are fundamental and involve overtesting, lack of autonomy over curriculum and instruction, accountability for same through test score evaluations, and a lack of respect that GOT has called ‘the DCPS imperial attitude.’ If you are school-based personnel, you are a minion not worthy of notice or conversation, no matter what issue you are trying to communicate.

When one superintendent leaves, the school board hires another one just like him/her and the spirit of Delores Umbridge lives on: things are bad, new edicts to fix them, and ongoing inspections because teachers are not to be trusted. Diana Greene didn’t begin this in Duval County, but she has carried on in the same vein.

The overarching problem is an obsession with data as the sole means of understanding and measuring student achievement and learning. Not only has the district duplicated state testing with their own tests, they often mistime when their tests should be given. This year was an exception, but the district usually forces teachers to give students a progress monitoring assessment in February, an assessment that measures learning for the entire school year.

Teachers are judged by the results. Thus, they routinely face the question of why they did not teach 40 weeks of jam-packed curriculum (Florida has never met a benchmark for learning that they didn’t immediately add to their standards if it wasn’t already there and they never, ever remove anything) in 27 weeks.

Why are we giving such a test halfway through the third quarter? Because the superintendent wants her data before Spring Break. Like a 1960s junkie addicted to smack, she needs her data and she cannot wait.

The solution for the district is to write detailed curriculum that every teacher must follow. Lessons aren’t scripted, but they might as well be. Teachers are told what to teach, when to teach it, and what platform to assign student work on. Even those assignments are often precreated.

It’s a damning picture of how the worship of data infects and entire system.

It boggles the mind that school district personnel don’t understand why teachers are leaving. Look, they cry, at the annual surveys about employee morale. But those surveys only ask teachers how they feel about their principal’s leadership. Most are okay with that. What the district never dares to do is to ask teachers how they feel about district leadership and policies. It’s as if they already know, but if they don’t ask, they don’t have to respond.

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