The high stakes testing proponents believes that the use of testing will motivate students, their families and teachers to take education more seriously. (Nathan, 2002, p.595) Many opponents on the other hand believe that “teaching to the test” will likely prove disastrous for the schools and curriculums involved and this is especially true if the test is the only gauge of success or if there is any question as to the validity of the test. (Toch, 2005, 26)
Either way, the debate rages on and the situation of quantitative data as the driving force behind school improvement is upon us. This change also requires that administrators and others become statisticians, interpreting and adding to data at every possible turn, in order to seek out as much qualitative information as possible from the quantitative data. This may mean finding and utilizing data systems, secondary to the high stakes yearly (or every three-year) tests, that many argue offer answers after changes can be implemented. One example of just such a tactic of utilizing quantitative methodology to access more telling information can be found at Alexander Elementary School in Jackson, Tennessee, where they use a method called Data in a Day to quickly look at strengths and weaknesses in the manner in which the daily operations and environments of the school are fairing. (Walsh, 2001, p.547) The data is literally collected and reported on within the course of one school day to assist the school in making immediate changes and rewarding immediate successes. The assumptive theory being that if data is the only tool allowed determining success and/or failure than the data must be comprehensive, rather than too little to late, as high stakes testing tends to become. Through this process all involved are immediately made aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the system and environment and can appropriately alter the situation to better meet the needs of students. It would be wise for some administrators to look at such a system to balance outcomes testing, affordably and in a way that serves continuous school improvement.
The role of data in schools has always been one of careful consideration, as data sets have been collected randomly and decidedly in this giant peatree dish that we call an education system. Schools are by far one of the best places to conduct research as the overall goal can be demonstrated and can be “scientific” in a way that many other settings cannot be. Raw data is more available in a standard school than almost anywhere else. The importance in this new stress is that data must be essential and balanced. It must measure for the goal of improvement, rather than for the eventual mark of failure as some say high stakes testing is doing. (Nathan, 2002, 595) The type of data that should be collected cannot be limited simply to student testing outcomes on standardized exams as such a view offers little recourse for immediate individual student achievement or even school improvement for that matter. The kind of data that should be collected should be well rounded and timely in that it offers a near immediate solution for an obstacle that could make or break a student or a system.
Schools can collect data on safety, as in perceptions of safety on the part of teachers and students, a set of data that could offer them instant recourse for a problem that can and often does poison a school to learning.
(Bon, Faircloth & Letendre, 2006, p. 148) Schools and districts can and often do collect data on parent involvement, often a mark of overall success and/or failure of individual students and schools. (Pena, 2000, p.. 42) Schools and districts collect data on teacher empowerment and job satisfaction as well as performance through more means than how well their students perform on standardized tests, as teacher continuity and retention are also marks of success in schools and often changes can be made to create an environment where teachers remain as a result of the environment, not simply better pay and benefits. (Inman & Marlow, 2004, p. 605) Data on materials is collected, so that goals can be set for change when materials are lacking or need to be updated to better meet the needs of students. (Kaufhold, Alvarez & Arnold, 2006, p. 159).
Quantitative research methodology has become a very big part of unconventional systems or systems that have not been excessively reliant on them in the past. Data has become a pervasive aspect of life in the modern world, in the U.S. And elsewhere and understanding concepts of data and how it is used (and occasionally even abused) by institutions is important. This emphasis is on quantitative methodologies for information and action has been historically associated with science, industry and medicine. Yet as this work has shown, recent trends show that other schools of thought have also adopted quantitative methodologies, to bolster the “scientific” nature of research and popular media and education are clearly no exception. A recent trend has carried the methodology into the mainstream media and education at never before seen levels. This can be evidenced by two specific phenomena, the accountability movement in education and the frequent utilization of statistics and scientific studies in media representations. With just these two examples one can see how quantitative methodology has become a substantial part of U.S. society.
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