Data vs. Evidence


Many people mistakenly believe that the terms “data” and “evidence” are interchangeable, and these words have the same meaning.

Data is factual information such as numbers, percentages, and statistics.

Evidence is data that is relevant and furnishes proof that supports a conclusion.

There is a big difference between independent research, studies, and data collection efforts leading reseachers to a conclusion, and cherry-picking data to find “evidence” that will support your predetermined conclusion.

Ed reformers claim many schools are failing to prepare our students for college and careers and the “evidence” they cite to support their conclusion, is the “high” percentage of first-year college students taking remedial math and reading courses.

Unfortunately, many ed reformers have chosen to ignore and disregard data that does reveal other plausible reasons for the rate of college remediation because the data does not support their predetermined conclusion.

For example, recent studies have suggested that the standardized placement tests used to determine the “need” for remediation are not reliable, and these tests have misidentified students…

At a time when more high schools are looking to their graduates’ college-remediation rates as a clue to how well they prepare students for college and careers, new research findings suggest a significant portion of students who test into remedial classes don’t actually need them…

Those high rates of remediation have long been used by education policymakers to suggest that primary and secondary schools do not prepare students adequately for college-level work. They were one of the key arguments behind the development of the common core and other standards-reform initiatives…

To determine whether all those students were really so unprepared for college-level work, Ms. Scott-Clayton examined the students’ actual high school and college credits earned and grades received.

She found that 20 percent of students placed in remedial math and 25 percent of those placed in remedial reading were “severely misidentified,” meaning that not only could they have passed the entry college course in that subject, but they could have done so with a grade of B or better…

“Most of these higher math-performing students hadn’t been in algebra for three to four years, maybe,” she said. “They needed to just sit down for three or four hours and do some algebra problems, and it would come right back to them.

Sarah D. Sparks, “Many Students Don’t Need Remediation, Studies Say” 2/19/13

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statististics has reported that a growing number of high school graduates will delay enrolling in college, and this “gap” in learning can contribute to diminished academic skills and student performance on college entrance or placement tests…

Kraft is part of a growing share of high school graduates who are choosing not to immediately enroll in higher education. A third of all 2012 graduates were not enrolled in a college or university in October — the highest rate since 2006, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kia Farhang, “More high school grads delay going to college” 4/30/13

The National Coference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has reported that it is not just traditional college students that are included in the data and that  would certainly have an impact on the demand or need for remedial services…

Nontraditional adults comprise a significant portion of remedial students. Adults who have been out of high school for some time and are returning to college to earn a degree or receive job training often need to take remedial courses to brush up on their math, reading or writing skills. More than 42 million Americans ages 18 to 64 do not hold a postsecondary degree and would likely need remediation if they pursue one.

NCSL also reports that lack of awareness and student effort may also be a contributing factor to low performance on placement tests;

Many students also are unaware of what the college assessment and placement process entails. A study by the education group WestEd found that many California community college students view assessment and placement as a “one-shot deal.”…

Students often do not consult counselors to discuss their courses or options to retake the test. Some students may not be aware that the placement tests determine which classes they are allowed to take, so they do not take the test seriously.

The WestEd study recommends that policymakers and higher education leaders work together to promote awareness among students about what it means to be college ready and how the assessment and placement process works.

NCSL also identified promising alternative approaches to remediation and reported;

Research suggests that students who test just below college-ready can be successful in college-level courses, especially if extra academic support—such as tutoring and group study time—is incorporated into the class.

The Community College of Baltimore’s Accelerated Learning Project places borderline remedial English students into college-level English. To provide extra support, the project requires students to take an additional course that serves as a study hour for the English class. Both courses are taught by the same professor.

NCSL Hot Topics In Higher Education: Reforming Remedial Education

Recent studies regarding college drop out and low completion rates, including a report prepared for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, may also provide relevant data and plausible explanations regarding the “higher” college remediation rates;

This study is designed to test the assumptions many of us make about college students today and why so many of them fail to graduate. It also helps to identify solutions that young people themselves say would help most…

As background to the survey findings, it may be helpful to begin with a clearer picture of “college students” today. Many of us envision young people living in college dorms, going to school full-time, attending ball games and fraternity parties, maybe working a few hours a week or in the summer to bring in a little spare cash…

The facts, though, show quite a different picture:

Among students in four-year schools, 45 percent work more than 20 hours a week.

Among those attending community colleges, 6 in 10 work more than 20 hours a week, and more than a quarter work more than 35 hours a week.

Just 25 percent of students attend the sort of residential college we often envision.

23 percent of college students have dependent children.

…If we truly aim to help this new group of nontraditional students fulfill their aspirations, college and university officials, state and federal policy-makers, employers, foundations and other advocates trying to ramp up college completion need to take a fresh, clear-eyed look at their current assumptions and practices.

The findings here reveal gaps in the higher education system that serve to undercut the efforts of students who need to work and go to school at the same time. They raise serious questions about long-standing policies that seem profoundly ill suited to students who simply cannot afford to go to school full-time for several years…

Source: “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” – Myths & Realities About Why So Many Students Fail to Finish College / Research by Public Agenda, Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. December, 2009

…In addition to the diverse pathways students take while working toward their educational goals, students who enroll in college full time immediately after high school no longer represent the majority among post secondary college students (Choy, 2002; Horn & Carroll, 1997; Reeves, Miller, & Rouse, 2011). Rather, many students delay college enrollment, enroll in college part time, and/or have a full-time job while enrolled.

To balance the responsibilities of family, work, and school, these students often take educational routes that require a longer time to a post secondary credential, such as enrolling part time, attending institutions with shorter terms, and occasionally stopping out…

Moreover, institutional accountability measures based on conventional graduation rates may underestimate the complexity and cost associated with improving outcomes and may disadvantage institutions, such as many community colleges, that enroll large numbers of students following nontraditional pathways (Belfield, Crosta, & Jenkins, 2013)…

Source: Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2007 Cohort / National Student ClearingHouse Research Center 

When it comes to America’s college readiness “problem”, it does not appear Common Core enthusiasts have followed their own standards that demand students “demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection”. 

Many reformers have concluded that disrupting K-12 education programs and prescribing a regimen of higher standards and harder tests will cure our student “readiness” problem.

Is it even fair or accurate to claim there is an education “crisis” in America when students who may have started their schooling as much as 2 or 3 grade levels behind are now several college remedial courses away from being “ready”?

College programs should follow the lead of K-12 programs and continue providing essential learning supports and services to meet the individual needs of diverse and delayed learners.

Reformers should rethink their misguided approach to college readiness, and consider the possibility that the problem is not just with students who aren’t “ready” for college but with colleges that aren’t ready for diverse learners.

We should consider the possibility that reformers have made the critical, perhaps deliberate, mistake of citing college remediation data as “evidence” of a national K-12 readiness problem.




11 thoughts on “Data vs. Evidence

  1. The other problem is the state mandates to efficiently mass produce educational experience based on objectification of the mind, standardization, authoritarianism, non-consensual participation and radical behaviorism. See High School Survey of Student Engagement and extrapolate the evidence from student comments.

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  10. Superb analysis. I will be sharing with local school committee members as a reminder to dive deeper into what others present as “data.”

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