Sunday, November 15, 2015

KY: Big Data in Action

If you've been following the discussions of Competency Based Education and personalized education and huge new data mining, and you've been wondering what it would all look like on the ground--well, let's go to Kentucky!

The US Department of Education is might proud of Kentucky and their embrace of a one-stop shop for data about students and teachers. That stop is called the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System, and yes, there are so many naming and branding problems with the system that it is almost endearing in its clunkiness. I would not be surprised for a moment if I learned that Kentucky teachers are in-serviced by watching a filmstrip accompanied by a cassette that includes droning narration and a beep every time the filmstrip is supposed to be advanced. The sort-of-logo is a misshapen star that is clearing racing across something, carrying the words "Unbridled learning" on back. I presume that's some sort of Kentucky horsey reference. On top of that, nobody seems to know what to do with the name, which I have now seen rendered as "CIITS" or "CiiTS" in a variety of fonts and, well, it comes across anywhere between awkward and grossly inappropriate. And how is it pronounced? Apparently "sits," which is kind of awesome, because now when a Kentucky teacher gets a lousy rating through the system, colleagues can say the teacher took a real sitz bath.

All I'm saying is that somebody did not perform due diligence on the naming of this thing.

So what is this thing actually?

It gives teachers ready access to student data, customizable lessons and assessments, and a growing selection of professional development resources, such as training videos and goal-setting tools.

Folks praise it with the same sort of language usually used to laud CBE efforts-- "before I'd have to use a one-size-fits-all assessment, but now the computer administers one and gives me results for each student so I can design exactly what they need" and if you're thinking that sounds like regular teacher stuff, just with a computer, I'm right there with you.

But as we dig into CiiTS, we find an awful lot of plain old teacher stuff is now supposed to be done with computer.

For instance, here's a video showing how to load student assignments into The System. You will notice that The System is particularly well-suited to loading multiple choice question based materials, so if I were teaching in Kentucky, I'm sure I'd want to cut back on all those subjective writing thinky type assignments and stick with stuff that doesn't give The System gas. So here's our seventy-gazillionth example of how designing education systems backwards warps the function of the system. In other words, a teacher ought to be asking, "What's the best way to check for understanding? How can I best check for the most high-order, critical thinking understanding and skills." A teacher should not be asking, "What kind of assessment can I whip up that will fit the computer's data collection software?"

Oh, but CiiTS has more to offer than just recording every single grade for each student. Let's give that some context by feeding the computer all the lesson plans, linked to all the materials.

"Well, gee," you may ask. "If CiiTS is so loaded with data, it seems like I could keep an eye on everything." And indeed you could. Here's a power point presentation from the beginning of 2015 that looks at, among other things, getting people aligned to their correct job category so that CiiTS data can be properly deployed. So we have the capability of holding teachers accountable not just for one Big Standardized Test, but all those assignments the students did while they were still trying to learn the concepts. So remember, teachers-- when you design those materials, don't just remember to first consider the needs of the computer, but also remember that the assignment results will be part of your own personal record.

The presentation also reminds us that newer browsers are experiencing some conflicts with CiiTS, which is not surprising since CiiTS was rolled out in 2011.

The presentation also shares some of the states use numbers for the program, which include 47,524 unique teacher and leader logins. Kentucky has "over 40,000" teachers, so it looks like CiiTS is in wide use, with those 47,524 logins signing in almost 28 million times in 2014.

The slide show also indicates that teachers can load personal growth goals into the system, and so can students (who can record the self-reflection). So here's a system that can log in and assess every single assignment for every single student and track it against the standards, all stored up by individual.

USED thinks this all sounds swell. They say things like "more complete picture of student learning" and "more targeted support." Students can move from district to district and have their complete record follow them. Anywhere. And there are banks of videos, materials, assessments, and other swell things that are already pre-keyed to the system. True, there have been technical glitches along the way, but the IT guys are always improving. Meanwhile, the teacher evaluation portion (KY is the only state to go full Orwell on teacher evals so far) may soon be upgraded to include student surveys. And of course all of that is carefully stored as well. I wonder if any Kentucky teacher will ever have to fill out a job application ever again.

Just saying that if you've been worried that Big Data will get the tools in place to suck up every piece of personal data from your child in school, and that we have to really worry about Big Data getting their hands on too much data some day, I am sorry to tell you that apparently some day arrived in Kentucky four years ago.

It sounds kind of like hell, but if any Kentucky teachers want to enlighten me further, I'd love to hear more. Because, yeah, it sounds pretty much like hell.


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  2. It pretty much is hell... Also, the students do evaluate us on there. But only one class, and it's not even randomized.