Saturday, January 2, 2016

PA: Big Bucks, Big Data and Big Kafka

For the "Maybe You Got Into the Wrong Line of Work" file, courtesy of the fine people at Opt Out Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's Department of Education late in 2015 (back when our legislature's failure to pass a budget was just a disaster and not yet an appalling, embarrassing disaster) awarded a grant for the expansion of the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS).

The expansion is supposed to make the educator dashboard "more usable, enhance its functionality and increase dashboard adoption by stakeholders." In other words, the state has noticed that hardly anybody uses PIMS because it's a huge pain in the butt that yields little useful information but takes half of your planning period just to try to navigate.

The state would also like to "provide training to participating LEAs and have access to tools and professional support materials that assist them to better use data to support instructional decision-making." In other words, they would like us to use test results to decide what to do in our classroom.

Of course, part of the problem with using test data to drive instruction is that in PA, as in many states, the intellectual property interests of the test manufacturers are valued over the instructional interests of the schools, teachers, and students. Before we give the test, we all take sign an oath that we will not look at the test, and if we inadvertently see it, we will never ever reveal what we've seen or use it with our students.

When we get test results, we see, at first, raw scores. That's it. Eventually, in some years, we may see a breakdown by standards (Chris got score X for "drawing inferences"). But we will never, ever, see exactly what questions were missed by which students, or what wrong answers they chose. It is the very definition of Kafkaesque-- this student took a test and got this grade, and you must insure that the student gets a better grade next time, but you may not see any of the specifics of this test nor anything that might show you exactly where the student messed up.

You must shoot at a target in the dark. We will tell you whether you hit the target or not, but not which direction you were off. Now shoot again and do better.

It does not appear that any of that is going to be fixed. But we will get a shinier website for looking at the useless data. Yay?

The grant is also so that PIMS can be improved as a one stop shop "to expand capacity for research and evaluation by creating more open and transparent access to education data overall. Establish a state research agenda, form collaborative research partnerships and increase internal capacity to conduct research." In other words, we need to fix the things up so that we can more easily share student data with way more people.   

How many tax dollars have been put behind this newly improvey initiative? Over the next four years, the state is granting $6,999,928 to this task (I really wish I could have heard the conversation in whch someone decided to hold back the $72 to make this an even seven million). I cannot wait to see what almost-seven-million buys you for a data system.


  1. Dashboards are all part of the big data fad. They are supposed to be coming to higher ed as well. I don't need a dashboard to help my students. A whiteboard, even a blackboard, works just fine.

  2. What a horrific waste of money. What misplaced priorities.

    Great analogy of shooting at a target in the dark.