However one might interpret the word 'dirty' - good, bad, or somewhere in between - the adjective itself, presented with the word 'data', does suggest an issue. This combination suggests something of an imposition, or something untoward about the latter. To many in education this is certainly the case. We work in a profession that is, perhaps, more driven by data than it has ever been, and it can be difficult to see one's real purpose when our work is muddied by relentless demands regarding statistics, benchmarks, and reporting. While discussions about performance pay seem to have fizzled out (in broad debates, at least), schools in modern Australia do still feel the braced grip of data in a sort of cut-throat Hunger Games with funding and good press the lethal weapons. Schools can quite seriously have a fight to the death with funding being distributed according to the performance, or lack thereof, of schools.
Understandably, no parents want their children to effectively be the guinea pigs of a troubled school with extra funding due to lacking performance. The truth, is, however, that every school - regardless of region, sector, or denomination - is the guinea pig school. Every school is being tried and tested, no matter its previous successes or grievances, and all teachers do indeed feel the stresses that inexorable varied and rigorous data sourcing places on professional life.
In this edition of Idiom: Demands of Data, we hear from a wide collection of educators who are doing incredible things in their classrooms and schools. It is appropriate here to acknowledge their work and thank them for their contributions. And a special thank you to Liz Loke’s Year 10 students at Glen Waverley Secondary College for their account of the ways in which they used data judiciously in order to bring about real change affecting their learning. No edition of Idiom is ever what it is without the altruistic and dedicated input of VATE members.
So, why this edition of Idiom, dedicated to data? Because whether data refers to the high stakes of NAPLAN or PAT or PISA testing, or if it just means your own personal data collection in the form of exit tickets, we think there's something to work with here. Data need not contain within it those 'dirty' connotations of imposition and top-down drudgery that mars a teacher's professional life. We hope to challenge the ‘challenge of data’ in our professional lives and offer ways to work with it, and have it work for us. This edition contains some creative and innovative ways of using data in your teaching, and none of it is difficult or arduous to facilitate. Whole-school approaches to the use of data are explored along with specific programs utilising data.
Whichever way you look at it, data in the teacher's professional life is here to stay, and in light of this, VATE will continue to interrogate its use, and explore ways to make it work better for us. We hope this edition works towards that aim or, at least, furthers debates about data in your school to make them more meaningful and informed ones.
Member of VATE Council and AATE Delegate
Co-convener of VATE Publications and Communications Committee