Most people can identify a particularly influential teacher from their early school years. Decades after graduation, adults will speak fondly of an educator who showed interest in them, opened their minds to new ideas, made learning fun, or demonstrated empathy and compassion.

Few adults, if any, would warmly recall an educator for willingness to adhere to rigid data models in the classroom. Data has a purpose, but the experience and passion of a good teacher is just as valuable. Improving our education system requires finding new tools that inform, but stop short of undermining, a teacher’s judgment.

A new study from the University of Kansas has found over-reliance on some data tools is undermining teacher insight. The study explores the impact of data-driven decision-making on one Kansas school district. The district, along with other schools in Kansas, relied upon the multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) model to inform interventions. MTSS compiles different sources of information about students, including screening data, test scores and teacher evaluations.

The model identifies students who need extra help, either with academics or behavior issues. Students can then get extra time with teachers or other help with social or emotional problems that make it harder for them to succeed in school.

MTSS is generally praised as a good framework for helping students, but like any tool, it can be overused.

The researchers found, in this case, that the school district and consultants working with schools relied too heavily on MTSS. Specifically, teacher’s recommendations as to the needs of their students were not taken into account when teachers disagreed with the interventions recommended by the tool.

The model was applied with inflexibility, disregarding educator feedback.

“Leaders presumed the infallibility of the MTSS model,” said the researchers in their findings, “relied exclusively on certain forms of quantitative data; standardized the individual needs of learners, processes of learning, and roles of teachers; and insisted on fidelity of intervention as an end in itself.”

In other words, the model became more important than the students, an unfortunate result from a program designed to provide more customized student support.

Our education system must trust the professionals in the classroom.

In November, the Kansas State Department of Education will name the 2020 Kansas Teacher of the Year, adding another educator to a long list of outstanding teachers recognized by the program. Thousands of Kansas teachers work tirelessly to learn and grow alongside their students.

As we bring more research-based ideas into the classroom, we must continue to see teachers as our most valuable tools.