“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema


“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema

When I embarked on my journey as an educator, I imagined that my prime responsibility would be to create engaging lessons where my students lost themselves in the wonder of their curiosity.

It can take hours to scour the internet for a diverse array of photos, laminate them onto poster paper, and mount them around the classroom for a gallery walk as my students navigate and jot down the first thoughts that occur to them. This was an activity my co-teacher and I prepared as a preamble for a discussion about stereotypes.

How about compiling a set of pro/con articles for several different persuasive essay topics and uploading them onto our classroom social networking website to facilitate iPad research during our argumentative writing unit? More hours.

Then consider the time and care needed to grade each of these 90 assignments and return them back to the students with feedback in a timely manner so they can edit and resubmit them for a better grade. Even more hours.

Part of submitting oneself to the rigorous profession of teaching requires the creativity to come up with novel ideas and the time to carry them out. All teachers know this.  Administrators with even a shaky working memory should be aware of this.  But policy makers have absolutely no regard for this fact.

That is why they shout their favorite buzzword from on top of their self-righteous mountain of education reform, “DATA—DRIVEN—INTRUCTION.” Can you hear the echo? … Me neither. I’m busy teaching

What does this sanctified term actually mean?

Drill your students with meaningless multiple-choice tests everyday at the start and end of class. Grade them all. Compile the numbers on a spreadsheet. Sort the students into categories of proficient and basic—smart and dumb.  Perform this monotonous exercise for every assessment you give.  And—while the merciless hour hand of the clock grinds away–lets schedule meetings during the school day and afterschool to pour over it.

20140927_082750 (2)20140927_082641 (2)

By now I’m sure, you can detect that I am philosophically at variance with this requirement thrust upon teachers who already have enough on our plates. Is this whole process completely worthless? Not necessarily.  It can provide some helpful info to a teacher as we reflect on what material may need to be retaught, and perhaps taught in a completely different way—especially in the event of a significant fail rate on a particular assessment.

But herein lies my beef with this fad. Time!–it’s already a scarce resource.  What’s the best way to spend it?  Preparing comprehensive data reports or creating riveting lessons?

I vividly recall spending an entire Saturday simply compiling data sheets to submit to my administration. I didn’t finish.  My Sunday was spent grading and finishing up the data reports.  It wasn’t until the wee hours of Monday morning that I had a chance to prepare my materials for the lesson of the day (PowerPoint slides, worksheets, website updates). I need not mention the other items on my to-do list like bulletin board updates and photocopies.

The sad and unacknowledged reality is that data driven instruction comes at the expense of creating dynamic lesson plans because it takes up too much time.

We need to change course. Our dignified teachers who refuse this incursion into their professional and creative prerogatives are leaving.  Our curriculum is gradually being compressed into a multiple choice bubble wrap package of nonsense.  And the ultimate hope of improving education is being dashed.

Ike Onyema is entering his fourth year as an educator in the Essex county area of Northern New Jersey.  He graduated from Rutgers-Newark in 2008.  He is currently a Chemistry teacher.  He celebrates his Nigerian heritage and loves Africa wherever he finds her.  During his leisure, he enjoys pondering the tranquility of the beach while taking long walks down rugged streets.


22 thoughts on ““Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema

  1. Mitzi says:

    I never got on the data bandwagon. Ridiculous. I look at the previous year’s scores, realize they will achieve with vigorous instruction and engagement, and then move on.


    • Cherise says:

      I totally agree Mitzi! I actually assess the students’ abilities before looking at the previous year’s test scores then devise a plan to move them up. Afterwards I look at their test scores and think, “Yep, sounds about right” and go right back to what I had initially planned.


  2. Reblogged this on mfcuk2 and commented:
    This piece by Ikechukwu is eloquently put…
    Sadly this is indicative of the direction of teaching today. We need to find a way to change this mindset. Not that I am advocating no testing whatsoever… The reason most teachers walk through the gates in the morning is not to be an administrator. We just want to be the vessel, the catalyst and the reason that children grow and learn new things everyday… Or am I just speaking for myself?


    • JennP says:

      Not at all..from a special educator..data driven instruction has in past and will eventually lead many of the exceptional students to drop out of h.s. in Philadelphia. We have suffered major budget cuts..still creating creative lessons but managing to push in the “bubblewrapped” material is breaking morale and the like to achieve the smallest of goals. Teaching was never to be scripted..inquiry..curiosity…want for knowledge is what we are trying to build..then scores are supposed to tell the story of my visual-spatial student and how he can build a robot with nearly nothing.(sarcasm). The equation looks more like an expression at this time in education.


      • ikechukwu onyema says:

        Thanks JennP for your perspective as a special education teacher. The more that our profession is reduced to a script, the more our morale sags. That’s exactly why I decided to write this. As educators, we need to have an honest discourse that we facilitate ourselves.


    • ikechukwu onyema says:

      Exactly brotha! Thank you. We definitely have to reverse this ‘data’ trend. It’s a private sector mindset–which isn’t very effective over there either. As you say, teachers would rather spend our time inspiring the eager minds in front of us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • txdistancerider says:

        But HOW do we reverse it? I teach here in Texas where we even have a candidate for Governor campaigning on wanting MORE TESTS for get this….PRESCHOOLERS!!! He wants to test 4 year olds and get the “RIGOR” started earlier.

        Frustrated and what to know actual steps we can take to get this trend REVERSED!!!


      • ikechukwu onyema says:

        @txdistancerider I wanted to hope you were kidding about the gubernatorial candidate in your state, but I just looked it up..and you’re telling the truth. Mr. Abbott and other politicians like him are insincere when they say things like, “we just want to measure for effectiveness.” They regiment and regulate their political enthusiasm for education by mandating these tests. But when it comes to other political initiatives like war or corporate tax-abatements they are ominously mute about closely monitoring for effectiveness.

        You ask an important question: HOW can we reverse this trend? No one will come to our rescue. As educators we’ve got to seize the political initiative. ORGANIZE students, parents, and teachers in our schools and communities. Educate them about all that is happening. In Seattle, high school teachers successfully coordinated a boycott of their state test last year. It can be done.

        Thank you for your comment!


  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m only in my 3rd year of teaching, but it’s already making me wonder if I will stay in the profession long term. I feel like I need to apologize to my students for what I am doing to them with constant drilling of multiple choice tests. When I DO actually get to present an engaging lesson they LOVE IT and amaze me with what they can learn…then they BEG FOR MORE, but all I am able to serve up is more tests.

    Definitely sharing your article!


  4. ikechukwu onyema says:

    Tracy, thank you so much for your comment and for sharing the article!

    It sounds like you’re a phenomenal teacher in your third year. Better than I was. I know what it’s like to consider leaving the profession. I just waged that war with myself…I decided to remain. I can’ tell you what to do. I can only assure you that being a teacher is a high privilege despite the attack being waged against us on so many fronts.

    As I said in one of my earlier replies to another educator (txdistancerider), there are steps we can take to fight back.


  5. TrueReformStartsNow says:

    The main problem with education right now, regardless of what state you teach in, is that it isn’t being run by educators.

    Politicians now rule the proverbial roost. And they do so with the subtlety of a ten ton hammer on an eggshell.

    Teacher and, to a lesser extent, administrators understand what it truly means to teach and educate. To put together lessons to not only instruct, but to get kids to WANT to learn what comes next.

    Politicians however only know two things: money and power. Only a politician would have been stupid enough to come up with a law called “No Child Left Behind.” Now don’t get me wrong, NCLB was noble in its intent, but execution is another matter entirely. Politicians say what voters want to hear about educational reform because they count on the mass public’s ignorance about what really going on behind the doors of their office. Politicians want two things from us: our hard earned tax money to spend on whatever special interest program they endorse and get kickbacks from, and our vote to keep them in office longer so they can keep getting richer.

    It is time to stop this cycle of insanity.

    Educators need to stop fearing administrators and politicians out of fear of not being renewed at the end of a school year, or being fired in the middle of one. Teachers need to make their voice heard loud and strong that we are tired of this misuse of education and will not stand for it anymore. We are tired of endless meetings and trainings for issues that do not improve our way of teaching, or that do nothing more than satisfy some districts efforts to improve their own numbers tot he state education boards. If it takes and entire school of teachers to protest and get fired to make the public notice what is truly going on, then I will gladly take that hit for the team. I am tired of seeing my students forced to go along with policies and practices that only hurt students (standardized tests….I am talking to you). I mean seriously…in Texas alone they take $50 million taxpayer dollars and give it to a British company (Pearson Education) to develop a test that they themselves laugh at.

    Education reform does need to happen, but not the way politicians portray. Stand up for your educators and children. Stand up against horrible policies and expectations. Remember…the smallest stone cast into a pond still creates a ripple, so lets make that stone the biggest BOULDER we can to get things to start changing for the right reason and in the right way!


    • ikechukwu onyema says:

      You are absolutely right. We must assert ourselves as teachers…set aside our fears. Speak up to administrators even if it means we are risking our jobs. Attend board meetings even when it costs us valuable time that could be spent working out at the gym or eating supper with our families–or the most precious item of all, our dear sweet sleep. Call me irresponsible. We’re at that point now.


    • As a low-income-school teacher forced out of her much loved instructional assignment by a reform-greedy district, I feel your words in my heart every day. When I was no longer allowed to teach, I sat down to write about what I had experienced, hoping to make a little ripple. I encourage EVERY SINGLE teacher out there to write, sing, dance or paint their way to making more ripples. May our small stones together finally make a ripple which turns into a boulder! ciedieaech.wordpress.com WHY IS YOU ALWAYS GOT TO BE TRIPPIN: SCHOOL REFORM AND THE RACIAL DIVIDE


  6. Cherise says:

    Great article Ike, thanks for sharing! I must say that I am currently blessed to be working in a school that does require us to give school-wide periodic assessments that require hours of time spent grading and inputting the data into Excel spreadsheets, but we are also provided time that is built into our schedule to accomplish these tasks. Is all the time that is allocated enough? Of course not, but I do appreciate the effort made on my administration’s part to recognize that our weekends should not be spent truncating data into spreadsheets, but rather resting so that our minds can be renewed and invigorated for the upcoming week. I have established a rule where I no longer take work home. I am a math teacher however, so grading math assignments can tend to take less time than grading essays, but nevertheless we owe it to ourselves to maintain a healthy mind and lifestyle outside of this profession, otherwise we will be burned out by December and ultimately ineffective.

    I also recommend saving and archiving everything that you create for the classroom. The first year that I taught the new Common Core curriculum I would spend hours after school researching lessons and activities just as you mentioned. I saved everything into a Google Docs folder afterwards however, so that now two years later I find that I spend my time tweaking lessons versus starting from scratch, and since the initial framework of the lesson has already been established I now have more time to analyze my student data and allow it to drive my instruction for the next day. I do this not because its what the administration requires, but because I know it will best help my students master the material and receive maximum gains within the content.


    • ikechukwu onyema says:

      The mark of an excellent and ORGANIZED teacher Cherise! I envy you. You shared important insight how to hone the craft of lesson planning and maintain our sanity.

      These days there seems to be a prevailing “siege mentality” that interrupts common logic in our school leaders. However, your administration sounds admirable.

      Your comment also underscores an important point: for newer teachers, the data push is a much greater burden than for experienced teachers who already have lessons from previous years to rely on.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Cherise!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s