One of the topics that came up at work recently involved the various flavors of testing that our out there: diagnostic, progress-monitoring, formative, screening, summative, and so forth. For the most part, these are tests for teacher use...and yet, like most things in education, they are getting twisted into various purposes by other stakeholders.
For example, many elementary schools use the the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills (DIBELS) test. These assessments are "a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. They are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of early literacy and early reading skills." It's not a bad little tool as long as it stays in the hands of the classroom teacher. It's a simple and quick way to monitor progress on a limited set of skills.
But then what?
It's not enough to assess, we teachers need to know what to do with the information. If I know that my first grader is below the benchmark target for oral fluency, what do I do about that?
Beyond that, who else should be using the information from the assessment...and for what purposes? Does the school district have the right to monitor---and, in essence, judge teacher effectiveness---based on this sort of student progress measure? Or would that be a misuse of the data?
The more I think about these ideas, the more I am starting to realize that we as an educational system really need to identify what data is important to whom...and how it should be used. It's not enough to generate the numbers, any more than it is for a classroom teacher to just put grades in the gradebook and move on. But I'm not convinced that we really know what to do with all the data we generate. Who is it for? What does it mean? Why should we care about one measure more than another? Then what?