Despite Worries, Big Data Can Be Key For Student Success

Education | Sectors   |   
Published May 20, 2014   |   
Rey Junco

The idea that a company is keeping tabs on a student’s every computer click is a scary concept for parents. A recent article compared this monitoring to NSA spying and raised questions such as who gets access to the students’ data and what will be its ultimate use. The fact that school systems are farming out their capacity to process data to for-profit companies is problematic and brings up issues which need to be addressed. Yet there are potentially revolutionary benefits to using student data to support learning, especially in predominantly Latino schools with few resources.

For the better part of half a century, educators have struggled with how best to assess student learning and make curricular changes based on such assessments. In recent history, we’ve used testing (and more recently standardized testing) in order to figure out what we need to teach to which students.

This process is incredibly clunky and not very accurate. Take for example testing a fourth grade class on their knowledge of the civil rights movement. The fact that Phillip scored significantly below the class average tells us nothing about what we can do to actually help Phillip learn the material. Our best guess with this kind of assessment is to tell Phillip to “study harder next time.” Educators call such testing summative assessment because it’s a snapshot of the endpoint of a learning process.

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