Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where's Your Data?

I spent the weekend in the hospital. A cough turned into pneumonia. But thanks to modern medical knowledge and technology I' m now at  home - still coughing a little but assured by medicasl science that I'm  ready to go home. My vitals are good, my blood test taken at 3 am shows my kidneys are normal - for me.I'm satisfied with the proof offered me that I'm ready to go home. Besides the food was terrible

Yetta just came back from the 10th bienniel Guatemalan Reading conference  held in Xela, (Quetzeltenanga) 7500 feethigh in the Central American mountain.

We've been going to Guatemala every two years over a  20 year period supporting the efforts of  Marcie Mondschein who goes regularly fromNew York and has put paper back book libraries  in schools  all over Gutemala and provided in-service to many many teachers there. Steven Barrett has been working with an NGO CEPA formerly related to a church in Xela to bring education to children who survive in the markets.

The confernce opened with a chorus of 5-12 year old children whose families earn their livings
crushing rock on the river bank. The children sang three songs in Spanish from song sheets that they were reading.

Which brings me to my topic , Where's the data?

In my three day hospital stay I sometimes felt I was emersed in data. "VItals",sugar count, oxygen saturation, heart monitor, temperature, breathing, I saw many doctors and technicians who spent more time looking  at the data than they did looking at me.

I began to think of how health is evaluated in comparison to how learning- paritcularly literacy is evaluated.

Medical students learn a lot about human anatomy by studyng cadaveers- dead people. But there is a great deal more complexity in my living body than in  a cadaver.

The living body is an integrated and dynamic whole. Any bit of data has to be evakuated un terms of norms, changes, and indicators of how the whole body is functioning.My caregivers shared with me the good news that came from trends in the data..

Language, oral and written is also a  living complex system in use. From studying language in
use we learn a lot that helps us to evaluate reading and writing. But there is danger in trying to use a medical model  to produce sets of data by stopping the complex systems and testing the dead cadaver we thus create.

Those rock crushers children were singing from song cheets. They knew the songs so it is possible that some particularly the little one were singing from memory- but singing a song from amemory is a much more meaingful living language experience than  recodning digraphs and trigraphs under pressure from  a tester who only gives a child three seconds before marking the item wrong..

We use miscue analysis to understand the process of reading with a sound recording of the live oral
reading of a reader reading an authentic text without interruption. That gives us
useful data to evalute  reading both quatitatively and qualtiateively. But the importance and perhaps the only analogy to medical data is  the qualtiative analysis of trends - is theire eidence in the miscues  of  meaning  making?. Is the reader able to retell the meaning that was created during the readiing?.

Reading tests- all of them- are based on a false set of assumptions that aspects of reading could be separately tested which could then be used  with other data from tests of  other aspects to give  a measure of  reading competence. .

But no test of an apect whether sounidng out nonsenes trigraphs or recognizing words or letteers or providing an antonym for sn out of context word or an other assumed sub skill  provides any useful information of the ability of a reader to make sense of written text.

A change in my pulse rate or my sugar score may give useful information to  a nurse or doctor about whether my health is improving.

But there is  nothing in a letter recognition test that tells me  about whether a particular six year old is making progressin in learning to read unless learning to read is defined as meeting the criteron score on the test..

And that reification of meaningless test scores is the stark difference between medical data and reading test data..   The data my medical care givers used was collected from my live bady and qualitatively analysed to monitor my body's heralth.

The reading test data is not reading data. But data from children singing from song sheets, or the numberof paper books each child has read by children living by scavening in the market is real data..

Millions of dollars have been poured into Guattemala's neighbor Nicaragua to test children with EGRA (DIBELS in rebosa) and then millions more to get them to improve their scores on EGRA But that has produced no useful gains in literacy  in Nicaragua as reported to the World Bank and USAID who with the Hewlett foundaton fund EGRA.          .

Marcie Mundschein's paper back libraries funded by selling Guatemalan artifacts at reading conferences in the US are producing literate Guatemalan children, I have been in those schools and seen those children reading And the children of rock crushers are staying in school and learning to read and write because  meagerly funded volunteers understand language and learning and care about the children of the poor.