Guest author, John Burger – What would a comprehensive and balanced student database look like at school, school system and provincial levels, and how should data be organized to maximize its usefulness? In my second blog I observed that data is scary for many individuals given the anxiety produced when data is used to blame or shame those accountable for the desired results. So, in this third blog, I want to identify some operational principles on which an enriched student outcomes database should be premised that would help ensure data empowers as opposed to threatening educators.
Principle One – balanced assessment data is fundamental to both fairness and utility. In a paper I wrote with Monte Krueger in 2003 and published in the IEJLL http://www.ucalgary.ca/iejll/burger_krueger we presented the view that classroom assessment should be based on a balance between formative and summative as well as criterion-referenced and normative-referenced assessments, but the bulk of classroom assessment should be formative and criterion-referenced (see Figure 3 reproduced below).
Figure 3. A balanced model of classroom assessment
Considerable research, perhaps most compellingly presented by the Black and Wiliam paper, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment,” supports the power of pedagogical approaches heavily grounded in formative assessment or assessment for learning. The power of assessment for learning is further enhanced when students are deeply engaged in the assessment process as popularized by Rick Stiggin’s and Anne Davies’ work.
Now, however, I suggest the conclusions in our 2003 paper were insufficient when we concluded that , “…there are numerous emerging technologies that could be incorporated into student assessment practices in order to advance their efficacy and establish meaningful and useful linkages to ongoing classroom-based assessment,” and did not elaborate on this point. So, to expand on this idea and identify the second principle, we should consider what other data sources would add value to more intuitive ways of understanding student needs.
Principle Two – student data should focus not only on achievement, but also on ability, aptitude, attitude, and interests. Ability tests are widely known and recognized typically as IQ tests. Group administered IQ tests such as the Canadian Cognitive Abilities Tests (CCAT) are less reliable than individually administered and more costly tests such as the Wechsler Scales (WISC-III, WPPSI-R) but can provide useful information regarding students’ preferred learning styles and whether the student is achieving to their potential.
Aptitude tests are less widely recognized and used, but can provide useful information on what programs may best fit a student in high school or post-secondary learning. The Differential Aptitude Test (DAT) is a good example http://www.creativeorgdesign.com/tests_page.htm?id=84 .
Attitude assessment is an emerging field, and recent instrument development in Canada include the Student Orientation to School Questionnaire (SOS-Q) http://www.etscanada.ca/afl/sosprogram and the Tell Them From Me instrument http://www.thelearningbar.com/about.php. Attitude linked to student motivation clearly effects student achievement so diagnostically assessing and acting on negative student attitudea at the individual and/or cohort levels can significantly support student achievement.
Instruments that measure student interests, such as the Safran Student’s Interest Inventory http://career.nelson.com/ceg/safran.html provide information that give insight into what turns students on to learning. When linked to attitude and aptitude measures information on a student’s interests can enable teachers/counselors to evolve a very refined picture of how to optimize education programs to maximize student success. The work Dan Hoch and his staff at RJ Hawkey School are doing to align student programming to their interests is illustrative of the potential that exists in this area http://plone.rockyview.ab.ca/rjhawkey/l-e-n-s-program/.
Principle Three – Education to too important to leave to chance and strictly intuitive ways of programming for students. Parents and teachers know their children/students best through the day to day interaction at home and in the classroom. However, intuitive ways of truly knowing students have their limitations that can be supported with more formal assessments and specialized information. Much like the way that qualitative and quantitative research methods are merging to form more practical and effective ways of understanding and doing education research, it is time to merge intuitive and more formalized approaches to measuring the full range of student approaches to learning. Comprehensive and balanced student information systems can provide crucial information at both the individual and system levels in ways that we have hardly begun to imagine. It is clearly time that we invest in such systems while building capacity to make maximum use of such rich information.