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The writers at ReadWriteWeb are busy putting together our list of predictions for 2011; and without spoiling all my crystal-ball-gazing, I'll say that I think one of the major areas for tech innovation next year will be around "data science." I predict "data-driven" will be the next buzzword-adjective, joining the ranks of "social," "mobile," and "location."

Data-Driven Education: Promise and Problems

But I must say, to me at least, "data-driven education" sounds both incredibly promising and incredibly frightening. And I anticipate that 2011's embrace of data will have huge implications for education -- not all of which will be positive.

Of course, we've seen the demands for data in education for a long time now, with the push for standardized testing as the premier method for gauging student achievement. And now, we're seeing moves to use these test scores -- "data" -- to measure teachers' performance in turn. Admittedly I am unconvinced that standardized test scores say all that much about student achievement, and so I tend to resist the idea that data we use to be "data-driven" is solely reliant on test scores.

That being said, I am a huge fan of data, open data, access to information. I do believe we make better decisions when we are better informed. And I think there is a wealth of data -- far beyond standardized test scores -- that we should look at in order to act and spend and educate wisely.

Data First

All of that is by way of rambling introduction to the new website Data First, a project of the Center for Public Education, funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation. The site says it aims to improve decision-making in education through data. But its mission isn't exactly providing data. Rather the site says it's designed to "guide people through the questions they should be asking about their schools, and point to the data sources that offer answers."

Here's some of the questions the site answers:

  • "Are our students ready for college": A look at SAT scores
  • "What's the racial makeup of our school": Department of Education data
  • "What is the poverty level of our school": Based on free- and reduced-lunch programs
  • "How many students with disabilities are in our school": Department of Education data
  • "How many students receive high school credentials": Department of Education data
  • "What is our average class size?": Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

Undoubtedly, these are good questions to ask. And the answers, good information to know. I like it that this site explains how a lot of these calculations are made: "proficiency," "improvement," "growth."

None of it, however, assuages my fears that we're still looking at the wrong, or at least very incomplete, data.

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Audrey Watters


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