Why Should Educational Researchers Pay Attention to the Data Movement?

Why should regular educational researchers, those working with science or social studies or emerging literacy pay attention to the changes in education around data. I can think of three reasons.
First, this is a major shift in policy that has overtaken the field. Whether or not one agrees with it or not the use of data at all levels is now established and the commitment in policy circles is only intensifying. If the Administration changes after the next Presidential election, the commitment to data and evidence use will be largely unaffected. This is a reality and one based in both the success of other fields and also consistent with several important research traditions from education that have historically been separate. The data movement is a reality and is making changes in schools and school systems.
Second, the data movement needs them. While some subjects like mathematics and elementary reading have performance metrics that are at times good, most of the curriculum has no really solid well defined progress metrics. As a result, the pressure to use performance information is compromised by the fact that in many cases there are weak indicators available. While the pressure to use performance information increases, the performance information itself is often of very questionable quality. It is not possible in most areas of the curriculum to go from information that originates with students (including test scores) to curriculum or professional development actions. There is a lot of work to do.
Third, it can be fundamentally interesting work. Education schools have traditionally had a lot of separation in the ways they work. The science and math folks might be in the same department, but often working independently and almost always in different ways from the assessment or policy people. Data involves crossing boundaries and bringing different people together into common frames of reference. It involves new types of problems to solve that involve breaking down silos that have historically been part of the educational world. In short, it is an exciting frontier for research. There are lots of interesting problems and interesting people to work with.

Dr. Piety is a national expert in educational data. He is on the faculty of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland where he teaches information and database technologies, cloud computing, and social media. He is the author of Assessing the Educational Data Movement, a book on using data to improve school success.

Posted in Research, Signs of the times, Uncategorized

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