MatricMany years ago I sat down with my Grandma and talked about what teaching was like for her back in the 50s and 60s. My grandmother, amazingly enough, was the Pomona California teacher of the year back in 1953. I asked her one time what they had to do to keep data on their kids. Back then of course it was pretty limited. I remember her giving me this look like ‘whatever do you mean?’ When I explained to her that now we have to have standards for every question we ask students, she just looked at me in amazement; like who has time for that! Oh how times have changed.

Today data driven instruction and computer aided assessments are quickly becoming the norm. Software platforms are changing the way we do business in the classroom. I feel like I may have missed an opportunity to make a lot of money here. At a cost of close to $7 a kid per year, these businesses are taking what we already do and sharing that information with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in graphical form.

Imagine this: we want to know what your English department is doing to teach kids the standards. On these types of platforms, you can very easily see what teachers are doing. You can measure not only how well their kids are doing on daily formative assessments, but you can even compare how kids are doing on individual questions being asked. The data you can mine from your students and their instructors is near limitless. Many of these programs will even grade your tests for you and enter them into a compatible grade book using your computers camera. Other teachers can even poach your test questions and use them on their own tests. It is a smorgasbord of data mining.

Now, some would say it’s an open door policy that keeps standards uniform and high for all; an unprecedented ability to see deeply into the learning, or lack thereof, taking place in a school system. Regardless, there are a lot of reasons why school districts love these types of platforms and there are a lot of teachers that love these types of systems. The questions I always ask is, “Do I really need a computer program to tell me my kids bombed or aced a test I gave them?” or, “Do I really want all my tests from here on out to be graded by a program on my laptop for all the world to see?” and, “How much of my precious instructional time should I be allocating for writing online assessments and generating data to prove to the universe I’m encouraging student growth? Do I need a computer program to tell me I need to reteach the material?

I often think of my grandmother when we as teachers are asked to embrace yet another data mining platform. My grandmother’s kids could do long math in their heads without calculators, and her generation only had the Iowa test. Who is really benefitting the most from all  these contracts? Is it the kid who needs extra help or the front office who is covered with mountains of data to prove kids are learning.  A lot of time and manpower go towards data collection, its just the way it is now. Many policy makers don’t realize that instructional time is a finite resource, and often times, non-renewable. My hope is that we will not lose sight of what really matters in our race to gather data. At the end of the day what matters is quality instruction and not the number of summative and formative assessments you can assign.


Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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