Lately, there has been much debate about both the relevance and reliance of data in education. As teachers, we’re being told more and more to use data to drive instruction and having data used to judge our performance. Looking back at our first week back from vacation, I’m struck by the variance in my sprouts reaction to coming back to school… I wonder how the data would support my theories.

Many children, who struggled before vacation, have taken huge leaps in the week since we’ve returned. Others who began to make great gains seem to have forgotten all they’d learned. A few who I thought would really labor behaviorally have not – they’ve blossomed instead. All the data, both concrete and anecdotal, I have at my disposal told me these children would do one thing, yet they did another.

Why? The only reason I can think of is quite simply, they are children… human beings (albeit tiny ones), not cogs or robots… (Alas my boyhood dream of living in a robot world has not been realized yet.) No single score on an assessment, a snapshot of a child on a particular day, one very small moment in their day, is going to explain the way a child learns or behaves. The minute we stop looking at the whole child and only data, that’s the minute we stop doing what’s best for children… we devalue the people they are when we summarize a sprout with a score.

Don’t get me wrong; assessment data is helpful… it helps me see what I need to focus on and where I might improve my teaching. It shows me if new practices and theories I’m using in the classroom are making an impact. It helps me understand myself as a teacher much more than it helps me comprehend my students. We need to be careful about remembering what the data is most useful for.

No matter how much I comb over spreadsheets or analyze charts and numbers, I’m never going to really know why Charlie, who struggled behaviorally more than almost any other child, had a stellar week back. I’ll never really understand why Barry, who never wrote a complete sentence before vacation, wrote an entire story the week after.

Working with children is not like working with reports or charts. The human body has close to ten trillion cells… that’s more than any spreadsheet I’ve ever seen.