"world wide web visualization 4717 By Anthony Mattox on Flickr"

"world wide web visualization 4717 By Anthony Mattox on Flickr"

With special thanks to Assistant Deputy Minister Paige MacFarlane, I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon a few weeks ago in a working session on Open Government.

Vision ~ The Ministry of Education (MEd) will adopt an approach that demonstrates the Open Government principles of Transparency, Collaboration and Participation that supports the ministry’s core work of personalized learning.

Goal ~ Develop and implement a strategic plan for moving forward with the open government approach that incorporates open data, citizen engagement and an enhanced user-centric web presence.

What I won’t do is try to encapsulate what was discussed… I’m sure that will become available to all that are interested. What I will do is share my thoughts as they relate to open data and the principles of Open Government shared by the Ministry of Education: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation.

These thoughts are my own, but many smart people in the room influenced my thinking… That’s my way of saying, “These are my take-always from the meeting, but not necessarily what was discussed. I took no notes, and I wore many hats: parent, teacher, administrator, tax-payer, critic, and learner.

Collaboration: In all my time as an educator, I’ve been frustrated by the adversarial nature of the teacher/government relationship. It’s a dysfunctional divorce of educational guardians, and all of our kids suffer. Here is the data by-product of this: Fraser Institute School Rankings. Here is my scathing opinion of what they do, (by the way I don’t think anyone in the working session liked what the Fraser Institute does with this data). As more and more data becomes digital, and easily shareable, we need to work together to decide two very important things:

1. What data is worth collecting? The fact is that even if the Fraser Institute stopped ranking schools tomorrow, the data they use is available. Not much else is, (besides Satisfaction Surveys). Let’s ask some good, helpful questions and start collecting data that is useful. What kinds of data can inform us as students, parents, teachers, administrators, government employees, and taxpayers? How best can we mine the data that will serve to inform our practice?

2. How can we meaningfully use this data to inform our practice? I loved a story told by David Eaves. He told us about an app that helps people find bicycle racks nearby when they want to park their bikes. However, the really useful information the app gathers is the location of the bicycle users when they use the app in search of a nearby bike rack… Their collective requests inform the community as to the location in which future bicycle racks should be placed.

First, collect good, useful data. Then use the data in ways that help us serve students and families better. A mutual agreement to make decisions around these two points will help everyone, even if other contentious issues can’t be mediated in the near future.

Participation: We talk often of parent engagement, but for most parents engagement means 3 report cards, one short parent meeting, and perhaps a student led conference. The direction of information primarily goes one way. What else do parents want to know? What do we wish they knew? What can we share on a continuous and ongoing basis? How can we engage more meaningfully with parents and our community? Also, how can we start to get educators interested in participating in meaningful data gathering?

Transparency: By the nature of classrooms sharing learning more openly, information about what is happening in classrooms, and classroom teaching, are becoming more transparent. In my opinion, this is a great thing. Sharing thoughts about my practice on my blog have made me a better educator. Even when I question myself, or notice things I could have done better, feedback has been really positive. Educators learning in a transparent way are an incredible way to model life-long learning… sharing the value of learning from mistakes and improving as we learn, which is often hard to impress on students. Transparency is also valuable from school leaders and from the government. The incredible ability to publish, link, share and interact online has made transparency easy. How to we harness this to get more meaningful participation and collaboration both in and for our schools?


I’ve written a lot of questions here. Many of them can not be answered by any one level or interest group in education. What is required is conversation across all levels, conversations with government officials, educational leaders, school-based educators, parents and community members. I’m not sure if the current climate in BC will allow that to happen in any meaningful way, and that’s really a shame. In an era of transparency where data is easily collected, and as we have seen easily manipulated too, we really have two choices: 1. Allow others, like the Fraser Institute to use data to drive their own biased mandate; Or 2. Work together, collaborate and participate in an effort to start collecting meaningful data so that we can help determine what we value and what data drives our educational direction.

Let’s work together, for the sake of our students, to collect data that informs our practice and helps us make BC education a model for preparing our students to be leaders in an amazingly transparent, collaborative, and participatory world. Let’s drive the data that drives our decisions, rather than letting the existing data be used to undermine public education.

5 comments on “Data Driven Decisions in BC

  1. Dave: I love the questions, now how might you use a bit of crowd sourcing to generate examples of data and data uses that productively influence student learning? An example might be to drill down into the FSA to some of the higher level questions – especially those requiring sophisticated reading comprehension skills and post both the questions, the answers options and the percent of students in the province that chose each answer. That ideally leads to the quest for what do students need to know and do to produce correct answers — and what experiences and instructional patterns produce these student attributes. There must surely be parallel examples in all content areas.

  2. Another great post, David.
    . In general, summative data like the numbers Fraser folks collect is useless for teaching and learning. I’m not sure what it is good for; I think you were being generous and restrained when you said that the Fraser Institute “sucks.”
    Formative data has value if it derived from assessments created by teachers, collected by teachers, and reported to parents and students in a timely manner. We have the tools to make standardized summative assessments obsolete; let’s do it.

  3. Bruce,
    One of the biggest issues with the FSA here in BC is that it is completely removed from what a teacher does in the class. (Many) private schools and some public schools invest considerable time in ‘teaching to the test’, while others (most) spend no time caring beyond prepping students for the arduous nature of taking the test when that’s not the experience they undergo in their classes outside of the test.

    Here is part of my email request to the principals of my kids’ schools, to exempt them from the tests for Grade 4 and Grade 7 FSA’s:
    “Please accept this as a formal request that my daughters Cassie & Katie be exempt from FSA testing. Unless these tests are used by my daughter’s teachers as assessment of and for learning, I do not see the purpose in subjecting them to such testing…”
    I see no value in my kids undergoing this testing experience when the teachers have opposed the use of the test, and do not use it to evaluate students in any way.
    Your question, “…how might you use a bit of crowd sourcing to generate examples of data and data uses that productively influence student learning?” is brilliant, and I need to think about it more, but the political nature and teacher union opposition to the FSA makes this test a place that meaningful crowd sourcing won’t work.

    I love your point that, “Formative data has value if it derived from assessments created by teachers, collected by teachers, and reported to parents and students in a timely manner.”
    What we also have to consider is that if we don’t have FSA’s, should we have some sort of province-wide testing of students, other than Provincial Exams in Grades 10 & 12? I think so. I think we can create some standardized tests that are NOT summative, but rather evaluative of basic writing and numeracy skills.
    Yes, this test would need to be assessed by classroom teachers, and the feedback needs to be meaningful to teachers, students and parents. No the Fraser Institute doesn’t need to get the data by school, (for example, perhaps the data is created (ie marked and reviewed) at the school level, shared with the district, and the district then shares entire district results to the government).
    I think that’s the sort of reporting process that would allow us to collect some meaningful data around student progress, and help guide policy and programs to support needs at the school and district level. I also think (and hope) that this form of reporting would allow us to get past ‘the adversarial nature of the teacher/government relationship’ here in BC.

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