Will the Test Cheating Scandals Derail the Educational Data Train?

The recent revelation that much of the improvement reported by the Atlanta Public Schools was the tainted by widespread test cheating have added to the concerns about how test-driven reform is really working in schools. When added to the similar cheating scandals uncovered in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and supported at the highest levels may cause some to wonder if the data movement will be affected. While no doubt many of the supporters of these districts (including of the foundations that provided ample funds) will reflecting on some of the impacts of high-stakes accountability, I don’t think we will see a shift away from the use of data. Rather, the data movement is too broad and too far along to be changed.  This is largely a good thing for education as data provides visibility into educational processes.  As supporters of testing will point out, it was test data that helped raise concerns about anomalous scores.

The data movement in education shares much with patterns of automation and uses of information technology that have occurred in other sectors.  The use of data to support reform and educational decisions in education is a sociotechnical process. And, like other sociotechnical revolutions, this process is going in one direction: forward.  As it moves forward it is changing the nature of many positions in the field, including teaching.  An important caution is that many of the information tools (NCLB tests) that have severe limitations.  There are many other forms of information that could help practitioners to improve their work.  And, as we have seen with the systems put in place for NCLB, the wrong information approach can lead to questionable results rather than real improvement.

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.

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