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Life is messy. Just when you think you have things figured out, BAM! An unforeseen problem whacks you right between the eyes.

No wonder we continually seek ways to make sense of life’s illogical turns.

It’s precisely why we love Big Data and all of the information it can whip into definitive meaning.

Algorithms instantaneously organize an infinity of online information.

Sabermetrics provide baseball aficionados formulas to predict outcomes and inform strategy.

Value Added Modeling turns student test scores into guides for identifying effective and ineffective teachers.

All of the sudden, life is not so messy. Hallelujah! Praise the glories of Big Data!

As Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, writes in a recent CTMirror op-ed, “Imagine, if you would, a world in which we didn’t make data-driven decisions.”

“What if we didn’t set safety standards based upon data about automobile safety? What if hospitals didn’t use data to track the success rates of surgical procedures? What if the Food and Drug [A]dministration didn’t use data to monitor the safety of new medications, or the Center[s] for Disease Control didn’t track the spread of communicable diseases?”

“Data-driven decision-making improves these industries,” he adds, “ensuring that society receives the greatest benefit from their services. Without data, we’d have less safe [sic] cars, surgeries, medications, and disease protection.”

It only makes sense to apply this same data-centric philosophy to our public schools.

“Despite what some would have you believe about the ‘art of teaching,’ take it from a former superintendent and educator of 20 years: education is a science,” Mr. Villar continues. “We have research on data-driven practices that absolutely will make a difference for kids.”

This highly experienced educator goes on to discuss, in general terms, “annual assessment data” and “quality data on education” while naming only the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test results as a specific example of such data.

Mr. Villar takes particular exception to professionals like Mary Quinn-Devine, an English teacher who says, “We’re not against testing. We’re against this test . . . It’s just data collection.”

“I couldn’t disagree more with these sentiments,” responds Mr. Villar, the veteran of education. “Teachers and union leaders who repeat Ms. Quinn-Devine’s mantra seem to be implying that data collection has no place in education.”

Those deceitful union leaders! All they do is spew anti-data mantras for members to bleat mindlessly: “Four legs good, two legs bad!”

We shouldn’t put too much stock, therefore, in a recent Connecticut Education Association survey in which 96 percent of respondents said SBAC is “not proven to be beneficial toward improving student learning in the classroom.”

Clearly, these teachers have not yet found the Way of Data. How else to explain their utter disregard for SBAC?

Could it be because, despite all the data that surrounds us, life is still messy?

Now I’m just a high school teacher with a mere 24 years of experience in an actual classroom filled with living and breathing teenagers, so what would I know? But I still have this gut feeling (admittedly unscientific) that data — especially of the SBAC variety — is not the be-all and end-all that Mr. Villar believes.

What’s more, Connecticut legislators, led by Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford, see SBAC in high school as superfluous — given the other numerous standardized tests juniors already take — and have moved “to end [the SBAC] test for high school juniors and promised to consider adopting a different statewide test for third- through eighth-graders.”

“[SBAC] was not chosen by this legislature,” said Slossberg in Thursday’s CTNewsJunkie story. “That was all done outside this building. I think there were a lot of people that woke up one day in this building and said, ‘wow, what’s going on out there?’”

Truth be told, I don’t see data as the devil. But neither do I believe it’s education’s savior. I simply think we need to create a middle ground that measures student progress while still regarding students as human beings — not as robots or widgets.

Finding that balance will be a messy process. But so is life. No algorithm will ever change that reality.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.