Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

No Data Left Behind

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

No Data Left Behind

Article excerpt

For international schools to meet their full academic potential, it is essential to establish a culture of rigorous self-examination.

Why use data?

International schools are unique, dynamic environments that draw from a variety of global teaching approaches to serve diverse groups of students. With resource-rich classrooms, motivated students and experienced educators, international schools integrate cutting-edge technology to create ideal learning environments.

International schools are often regarded as exceptional institutions within a host community, and international educators enjoy a rare sense of professional autonomy. However, this independence can also result in professional isolation and disconnection from not only best practice, but standard practice. One significant area in which many international schools can improve is the use of data.

Understanding why many international schools have not used data is the first step in establishing a culture of rigorous self-examination that will enable international schools to meet their full academic potential. This article will explore some of the reasons data is not widely used in international schools, and suggest specific steps for using this important tool to promote student learning and teacher growth. In the 21st century, the importance of using data to guide important decisions is widely accepted, not only in education, but in most fields, for three key reasons:

Using data keeps us healthy. It is difficult to imagine a commercial airline pilot ignoring available information on altitude, airspeed, cabin pressure, and just landing the plane based on a 'feeling' of how it is going. Likewise, most patients expect a doctor to pay close attention to specific indicators such as temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, blood count - and analyze this information based on many years of his practice.

Using data makes us stronger. Elite athletes train relentlessly, refining their practices and routines based on whether or not progress is being made. If a track star is putting in 25 hours a week of training and is getting slower, his programme must be changed in order for him to improve. Data is an integral component in an athlete's development process.

Using data helps us learn. Scientists also use data to inform the creation of hypotheses, to test their expectations and to prove or disprove causal relationships in the natural world. If a biologist observes a connection between a certain protein marker and a disease, this observation needs to be tested by analyzing data from a variety of circumstances to determine causation rather than correlation.

Obtaining evidence that efforts are contributing or not contributing to progress are defining characteristics for success. Likewise, ignoring signs of trouble can damage the health of individuals or organizations, and dedicating resources without measuring outcomes may prove futile.

While comparing schools to athletes or scientists contains some validity, what distinguishes schools is that many variables cannot be controlled. Starbucks cafes look and feel the same whether in Bangor or Bangkok; however, every classroom is different and no one single formula can be used to educate all children. In order to understand international schools as dynamic, diverse and complex organizations, it is essential to examine student learning data; this enables educators to monitor individual and group progress and then tailor instruction to optimize results.

Data in education

As a profession, education is still learning how to make best use of data to improve teaching practice and reform schools. A widely-held belief is that 'educators are data rich and information poor' (Killion & Roy, 2009). This 'data gap' has been attributed to 'an overabundance of data, a lack of systems to analyze data, or limited experience among teachers in using data' (Sweeney, 2011). In the last decade, teachers have developed a more sophisticated understanding of both formative and summative assessment; schools have gathered more data on student learning. …

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