Children Are Not Data Points

I can’t read one more post or tweet about data-driven instruction today. I CANNOT.

What most people attempt as educational reform is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You can make the round hole bigger, but the square peg will just fall through. It doesn’t fit, and neither does the system.

Today, I read a wonderful post by my friend Eric Johnson – “Fighting For Their Lives.” Does anyone actually think kids like the ones Eric describes are able to do their best on a test that measures the most narrowly defined (and least important) part of what learning actually is?

Yesterday, I read a great stand by a teacher who is first and foremost a parent. Karl Fisch posted his letter to his daughter’s high school, which is also the high school where he works. In this incredibly well written and passionate letter, Karl and his wife, Jill, explain why they are opting out of the PARCC test for their daughter.

Two weeks ago, I was on an emotional and professional high with visitors to our school exclaiming their amazement of what our kids are able to do. They were pleasantly surprised about how much and how well our students of all ages can articulate what they’re learning. They saw examples that demonstrate how much these kids are learning, and they heard Anastasis alums talk about how their learning at our school prepared them for what came after.

The best endorsement I have from the educators who attended our conference is the number of times I heard, “I want to enroll my own children in this school RIGHT NOW.”

But yet, we don’t give homework at Anastasis. We don’t give standardized tests. We don’t give grades. We don’t rely on traditional data* to inform and shape our instruction. (No standard curriculum. No standard grade levels. We don’t do anything standard here.)

So obviously, our kids aren’t really learning, right?


There is no sound bite in the world I can give you to explain what happens in our school.

There is no blog post that could ever adequately explain and describe how deeply our students think.

I know that Anastasis is not the perfect world. There is no such thing. But what I know is this…



CHILDREN ARE NOT DATA POINTS TO BE PLOTTED ON A GRAPH. (Repeat this one over and over and over.)

If you want to truly reform education, stop trying to make kids fit into a standardized curriculum. Stop testing them over things that should never define who they are. Stop treating children as widgets the minute they walk into the door of their school. They are not packages rolling along a conveyor belt with a barcode affixed to their foreheads. You want to talk profits, inventory, and sales? Standardization is great for that… but our children do not deserve to be treated as such.

You want to reform education? Stop standardizing everything, and look at the amazingly wonderful and unique human beings who walk into your school. As Eric said in his post, for some children, school is the safest place they will encounter on any given day.

Help them feel safe.
Help them feel nourished, both physically and emotionally.
Help them feel important and valued.
Help them feel loved.

THAT is how you start to reform education.

It is about the KIDS. Anything else is a cheap, tired, and overused excuse.

And if you use the word, “accountability” when you try to debate this issue with me, you’d better be certain you can answer this question: how are you accountable to the children you serve? 

Do they feel safe? Nourished? Valued? Loved?

I can answer that question at our school, because that’s how our school was started– with the children at the center of our focus.

How does this play out academically? Come visit our school. Seriously. We have visitors all the time. Or go visit Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Kids know they matter in these places.

And on that visit… don’t talk. Watch. Listen. Ask questions. Reflect.



*By “traditional data,” I mean test scores. We use data at Anastasis all the time… it just doesn’t look like most schools’ data.

The Wow Factor

At ISTE 2010 in Denver, I attended one of Howard Rheingold’s sessions, “Crap Detection 101.” In this session, Rheingold talked with educators about helping students learn how to wade through the endless amounts of data on the web… but most importantly, helping them discern facts from “crap.” I think a lot of adults could use these skills, in addition to our students.

Another form of “crap detection” that I wish educators would learn is how to know when they’re being taken for a ride courtesy of the Techno-Wow Train.


cc licensed photo shared by thekeithhall

I’m not knocking technology in this post. After spending more than a decade in techno-centric roles, that would be a step back for me. What I do have a problem with is when people use technology to make a fancy-schmancy spreadsheet or “beautiful PowerPoint” (oxymoron?) to present bad information (crap) with a nice, shiny bow or a few amazing bells and whistles.

For example, if I were giving multiple choice tests in my music classroom, and then charting the data into an impressive looking spreadsheet to give to my supervisor, I would hope that my supervisor would ask me how I obtained the data. I would hope that my supervisor would NOT be impressed by the delivery method (the spreadsheet), but would ask good questions about the data.

To clarify my point: in the music classroom, I should be assessing what my students know by having them demonstrate what they have learned. Through a multiple choice test, I can evaluate a student’s memory or understanding at the Knowledge level only. Or… maybe that they are good guessers. What is a quarter note? What is an eighth note? These can be answered on a multiple choice test. Do I really know, through a multiple choice test,  if students understand at a deeper level? Absolutely not.

However, if I give those students an activity where they must create their own rhythm patterns using quarter notes and eighth notes, as well as giving them restrictions– I want a rhythm pattern that is two measures long, with four beats per measure– NOW those students must use Application and Synthesis skills to demonstrate what they have learned. I can chart this data just as well as I could chart the multiple choice results.

Which assessment option is better? That’s a no-brainer. BUT… in a spreadsheet of data where I mark “understanding,” how will anyone know what my data represents? It could be the multiple choice data.

I’m really good at making fancy-schmancy spreadsheets. I can make you marvel at my super mad MS Excel skillz. BUT… what do you really want to know about my students? That their teacher can give you the Wow Factor when it comes to presenting data? or that the collected data really means something?