You enter a checkout lane at Walmart, Target, or other big-box store and put your purchases on the counter. They’re scanned by a device that reads bar codes and translates them into data fed at the speed of light through fiber optics cables to corporate headquarters and distribution centers.
The data produced by the bar code readers keep track of inventory, determine appropriate staffing levels, provide feedback about advertising effectiveness, and much else that guides decision making.
Those in Washington now shaping education policy are certain that what data tracking does for business it can do for education.
But there’s a problem. Kids don’t come with bar codes, and teachers don’t have scanners. Nancy Creech, the Michigan kindergarten teacher who recently told her story here on The Answer Sheet, summarized a consequence of data-collecting mandates. Authorities in her state, unwilling to trust her professional judgment, require her to give more than 27,000 grades or marks to her 4- and 5-year-olds. That number, evenly distributed over the school year, would require her to take a data-related action every two minutes of every school day!
This, of course, is ridiculous — almost as ridiculous as assuming that machine-scored standardized tests produce important data about the mental ability and future potential of those who take them.
As others have pointed out, computer programmers have an appropriate acronym for irrelevant data: “GIGO”—“Garbage In, Garbage Out.” If data fed into a computer is nonsense, the data coming out will be nonsense.
The non-educators now in charge of education have the teaching profession awash in GIGO.