Sunday, 1 May 2016

Progress Data: Let It Go

Data - the necessary evil.  The powers that be - be them SLT, governors, LAs or OfSTED - need to track how well our kids are doing.  The small victories we experience each day in the classroom across various subjects are reduced down into a number or sometimes a number and a letter before being subjected to a plethora of algorithms.  These calculations are used to decide whether we are doing our job or not, and potentially whether we are working in outstanding or inadequate schools and teams.  

Personally, I find data to be the most stressful part of teaching.  I have poured over Target Tracker reports, considered small adjustments, supported team members in creating summative judgments and changed future learning according to the data collected.  Data has given me nightmares and reduced me to tears.  I've been in the room when the whole-school picture is handed out and my year group is surrounded by fields of green but haven't done quite enough.

In the deep, dark ages (!!) when levels were around, progress data was a game of letters and numbers.  Some knew how to get the best results and, as a new teacher, I was just trying to hand up an honest reflection of my class and their learning.  The release from levels gave potential for us to be freed from numerical data.  Nowadays, however, it seems objectives are the name of the game.  Some, like us, are tracking every objective for every child while others are focusing on key objectives or a slimmed-down framework.  The focus has shifted from a sliding scale of progress to a simple yes or no.

As this year of bizarre primary assessment changes began, I was incredibly nervous about how my team were going to prove progress.  I dedicated far too much time to researching alternatives for tracking learning and spent too long worrying about what our data will look like come June/July.  Alongside this, we spent a huge number of staff meetings discussing, changing and moderating our chosen tracking system.  Clearly, data is important in education.  But is it really that important?

Earlier in the year, a good friend and colleague was experiencing similar worries and feeling the stress brought on by tracking summative progress.  In comforting her, I'd replicated Elsa's famous advice: Let it go.  I'd encouraged her to shift the focus from the numbers to the children.  It was when she repeated my own words back to me recently, that I realised I'd given the pressure of data too great a hold on me.  She reminded me that the most important work we do as teachers happens day-to-day in the classrooms.  The relationships we have with our class, our planning and delivery of lessons and adjustments based on ongoing (mostly unrecorded) assessments are paramount.  And the impact of that simply cannot be measured in numerical figures.

Progress data is important and, yes, I will continue to tick the box, double click the objective and track the numbers.  The difference is, it will be on the periphery.  Focusing on improving my teaching, getting to know my class better and gauging their understanding will have a much greater impact on their learning and lives than trying to work out what "expected" looks like and how many objectives will get there.

Data.  I've decided I'm going to "Let it go"...it can't hold me back any more!

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