My former mentor, Curtis Meinert, was fond of telling his fellow clinical trialists that "pigs is pigs and data is data" as we wrangled over drug testing results. When I first heard the phrase at the ripe old age of 19 from this midwestern guy turned white-haired biostatistician and epidemiologist, I had to scratch my head a bit. What was this guy talking about?
It took a bit of experience in the clinical trial industry and the business of statistics to make real sense of what he was saying. Ultimately, though, it boils down to this: you can't argue with data. No one would argue that a pig wasn't a pig and, if collected and interpreted correctly, data should stand alone as well.
Here I am 13 years later, and I can't help but remember Dr. Meinert's catchphrase as we look to implement RTI and make further progress towards not only improving our state testing scores, but really begin to use the data to drive instruction. One reader of my last post on RTI suggested that the approach of collecting data and using it to modify both our content delivery and the services we offer to individual students was Orwellian.
I have to disagree. The original point of standardized testing was certainly to improve teacher accountability and ensure that kids are at least achieving at a reasonable level across the board. While this particular aim hasn't been fully realized by a testing system that forces us to "teach to the test," one other goal has been completely successful: provide us with data. We have lots and lots of data now on specific kids, specific content areas, overall data on districts, schools, and classes, and the means to change what we do based on those data.
RTI is only a piece of this; these data, no matter how much we may dislike the principle of the tests themselves, are incredibly useful. Businesses spend millions of dollars to mine data about their customers. Our customers are our students. It's time we started mining data about them, as well. This isn't 1984 - rather, it's an opportunity to serve them better and prepare the gifted, the mainstream, and those with special needs more fully than we could if we didn't have these often-ignored data at our fingertips.