I’m a stat nerd at heart. I love studying samples of data. I love analyzing trends and what it means for the future.
Heck, a quick perusal of my Twitter timeline will reveal that about 90 percent of it is sports statistics, many of which are advanced analytics beyond the realm where many care to venture.
But even though numbers can tell you a lot of good stories, my experiences also have taught me there’s a person, and a community, behind every data point.
So we should be careful about how beholden we become to certain sets of information. I’ve been too much so in some cases.
The human dynamic matters, whether it be in sports, education, government, anything.
As you’ll read beginning on the front page of this week’s edition, Texas-based nonprofit Children at Risk recently released its annual public school rankings for the entire state. And while some of our Fort Bend County schools passed with flying colors, the ratings system also gave poor grades to a number of campuses.
On their surface, the factors at play seem reasonable enough. Children at Risk’s evaluations take into account how well schools support economically disadvantaged students, annual test scores, year-over-year growth and, for high schools, college and career readiness.
But to that end, there are certain aspects that Children at Risk can’t even begin to measure that play a crucial role in children’s development, no matter where they go to school.
Many of us have that teacher who always believed in us and urged us to continue on, or that coach who pushed us just a little bit harder than everyone else because they saw something in us.
For me, one of thoes was an elementary school teacher in Katy, who was then called Ms. Gallaher. She was a wonderful woman who was always encouraging us and always seeking ways for us to better ourselves, even at a young age.
I’ve also seen that play out as I’ve grown older and entered the workforce alongside my sister and closest friends, all of whom have taken the oath to molding the minds of tomorrow – from Katy to Spring Branch to East Texas.
One of my best friends, that first-grade teacher in East Texas, had a student this year who struggled to read prior to entering her class. Throughout the year, she would read to him and oftentimes tutor him during her off periods and lunch hours. By the end of the year, he had read enough and accrued enough Accelerated Reader points to lead the school – and become one of the best readers in the class.
His natural abilities played a part in that, of course. But what put him over the top was the dedication that this first-year teacher showed. She poured her heart and soul into his well-being and being a source of motivation for him.
And that’s only a slice of what I witnessed firsthand. She’ll never ask recognition for it. But she toiled away behind the scenes, all on his — and other students’ — behalf. Beyond that, the kid played in a youth football league in that area, and she was at almost every one of his games, sacrificing her Saturday mornings to be a beacon of light and encouragement.
What I just described is the essence of what rankings like Children at Risk’s cannot measure. The results of these months of grueling, exhausting work may not show up in test scores right away, and the rankings will never take stock of what goes into a child’s development beyond the curated curriculum and programs.
Growing up, I didn’t understand what it took to be a teacher. I never saw – or never wanted to see – the sacrifices they took in order to teach us. But now that I have, I believe even more that ratings such as Children at Risk’s can be helpful — but should always be taken with a grain of salt and cannot truly capture the human element.
I never went to school in Missouri City, Stafford or Sugar Land, which surely have their own dynamics.
But there is one thing of which I feel fairly certain – there are teachers in every classroom at every school in our area who do more for the children in their care than prepare them for college or simply teach them something to regurgitate on a standardized test. That’s been the same everywhere I’ve lived and worked.
Examination of any data set begins and ends with taking the human element into account. Children at Risk does its best, and this study can definitely be a good tool – but any study failing to take human elements under advisement will always come up short.
Look beyond the curriculum, to the ones behind closed doors, if you really want to see what matters in your child’s development.