Within schools it sometimes happens that scheduled meetings have to be cancelled. Staff are advised they should use the time for inputting and recording of student data. The first call on teachers’ programmed release from face-to-face teaching, is the use of non-contact time for recording purposes.
Data is important. Student progress should be regularly recorded in order to confirm student outcomes and assist teachers in revising and forward planning their units of work.
In recent years, there has been a lot more focus on data and formalised recording at system level than was the case in the past. However, in past times, good records were maintained within the vast majority of schools. It is a misnomer to suggest that nothing happened before national testing was introduced
Tests were developed and applied at school level. These days the emphasis is increasingly upon nationalised testing regimes . Results are used in part for comparison of schools within and between States and Territories.
National tests, standardised as they are, fail to recognise the individual and specific backgrounds of students in schools and their catchment areas. While databases have been prepared which examine the socio-economic factors within school communities, these are quite general and don’t take account of specific differences between people. Cultural differences, occupation, income, family educational background, housing affordability and geographic location impact on schools within their communities.
One of the deleterious effects for schools forever being under the testing and assessment magnifying glass, is that the human side of development can be overlooked. Years ago a group of educators visited a gas bottle refilling business. The guide suggested children were like gas bottles. Empty cylinders were refilled, then sold. Similarly, children started school as “empty vessels” were filled up with knowledge on the way through and graduated from school “full” of understanding, ready to contribute to society.
This was a sad comparison. Children are complex individuals. Their development towards adulthood includes social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs along with literacy, numeracy and other academic outcomes. Over-focus on academic testing and data can detract from these wider developmental needs. The world needs articulate people who are confident communicators, intuitive thinkers and careful decision makers. Academics are part of education but by no means the whole of what should be offered.
What is and what should be
Educators talk about the need for holistic education. However, with funding attaching so critically to educational outcomes which are only academic, the priority naturally turns to literacy and numeracy. The key and often only focus of educators’ meetings is that of literacy and numeracy teaching, strategies and data.
Schools are achieving, but success often goes unacknowledged. Those working within our schools often feel deflated, becoming convinced they are failing in terms of building students toward desirable outcomes.
Education should not be laissez-faire. Neither should it be so data focused, concentrated within one narrow domain, as to overlook the importance of holistic development. Teachers, parents and community should be working in partnership with students, to prepare them for a fulsome entry into life’s world. Education for the whole of life goes well beyond narrow, academic, data confirmed outcomes.