Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Value-Added Research and educational infrastructure

One of the things our research team struggles with on a regular basis is the huge gaps between what educational information systems track and what we need to correctly attribute programs to teachers and students. It has been rare - in my experience - to find that a district student information system comes close to managing the complexity of teaching and learning in modern schools. If we want to know the effectiveness of a particular 4th grade reading program, for example, one would want to have strong attribution of the following links.

  • Which adults are engaged in the instruction? Given multi-grade classrooms, team teaching, trade offs between subject matter exports who are not the primary instructor, etc. it is often difficult to determine who (and there may be several adults) is doing the teaching.
  • What is being taught? While we may know what books were purchased, it is difficult to know if a teacher is actually delivering the purchased curriculum as intended. There may be custom additions or replacement of sections. The curriculum may be difficult and the teacher is struggling with the material as well.
  • Which kids are in the room? Pull out programs, ability grouping, and student mobility may all cloud the picture and make it difficult to determine who was in the room to do the learning.
  • What resources does the teacher bring to bear? There are important aspects of teacher training (original university work and ongoing professional development) that provide important insights about what works from the input side of the production of student knowledge.
This is not to say that no one tracks these things. However, I would suggest that it is far more difficult that even most district administrators recognize. It is beyond the capacity of some large fraction of the school management software being sold today.


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