Data Tracking and the LFs*

Until recently I was unfamiliar with the sorts of pupil tracking systems used in most schools. I’ve also recently had to get to grips with the plethora of acronyms commonly used to categorise groups of students being tracked. I’ve come across PP, LPAs, HPAs and LACs but, rather surprisingly, no mention of the LF. To be honest I am surprised by this gap given that in my considerable experience it is how the teacher and school manage the performance of the LFs that is most crucial to healthy end of year data. If the LFs perform near their potential you’re basically laughing all the way to the exam hall.

I should, at this stage, be clear. LF is not a standard acronym (it was invented by my husband) but it does describe a clearly recognisable and significant sub-section of any secondary school population. The L stands for lazy (and the second word begins with an F).

I am being very flippant, I know, but my point is serious enough.

Today I happened to need to look at a spreadsheet containing data for an old cohort from my last school. As my eye glanced down the baseline testing stats, used for tracking, I couldn’t help emitting frequent snorts of derision. The trigger of my scorn was the original baseline test data for some of my most ‘affectionately’ remembered GCSE students (truthfully, actually, I do remember them all with warmth). I commented to my husband that they needed to be real… erm… ‘LFs’ to score that low on the baseline given the brains with which I knew perfectly well that they were blessed.

If I and my colleagues had based our ambitions for those particular boys individuals on their predicted grade from the baseline they’d have cruised lazily through school. Their meagre efforts would have been continually affirmed as adequate which would have been ruinous for their habits and character and a betrayal of their potential.

If value added is what drives you it is also an obvious truth that if you effectively cap your ambitions for pupils by only showing concern when pupils don’t meet predicted grades from the baseline you’ll still have to absorb the scores of some pupils that just aren’t going to be able to live up to their predictions. Meanwhile you lose some of the scores of those that should do better than their baseline result suggests, that would otherwise balance everything out.

I think what bothers me most is the ‘inhumanity’ of a purely data driven approach to progress. How could school teachers, of all people, have devised a system that allows no room to acknowledge obvious human truth before our eyes? Exactly when weren’t and where aren’t some humans, sometimes, rather lazy? Down through the centuries school teachers have exercised their craft, ensuring pupils learn important things despite the entirely natural human propensity towards sloth, magnified in the teenage years. What made us think we could dispense with that wisdom, that our spreadsheets knew better?

Can we re-learn to teach the pupils that actually sit before us, responding to them using our hard-won expertise? Oh, I do hope so.

*Warning: this post nearly contains bad language.

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6 thoughts on “Data Tracking and the LFs*

  1. Another important consideration is when a true baseline is not established (masked by underperformance) and then this is used to demonstrate ‘progress’. This often happens with survey level reading assessments. A single low score is used to decide whether the child receives intervention when, in fact, the problem may have simply been poor test motivation. A higher score at post intervention can then be claimed as ‘progress’. It is so important to assess in such a way as to ensure a true baseline is established. We routinely see large numbers of students screened out after more detailed initial assessment.

  2. Heather–this has nothing to do with LFs, save perhaps that I was one of them a long, long time ago.

    However, I commented on you 20 Feb post in reply to a woman who was having a struggle getting her own pupils to learn number bonds, and several days later you asked if our programme was available commercially. I only saw this recently when I went back to retrieve a quote for our website. I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy– are you still at the Thetford Academy?

  3. I’d love to rewrite our school’s data policy. Very simple, student can het one of three grades at every point: +, = and -. If the teacher thinks they’re doing about right, then equals. If better than expected then plus. If could be doing better then -. Simples.

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