Normal-ish II: Develop The Full (Data) Picture

“Normal”, you say?

This week, we’re breaking down “normal” from two angles that get researchers all tangled up.

  • In Part I, I pointed out that knowing one measurement at one moment in time doesn’t necessarily give enough context to figure out whether that measurement is good or bad, hot or cold, etc.
  • Into Part II, the emphasis shifts to the issues with over-reliance on one measurement.


Get to the point… and the other points, too!

One measurement is great, but developing the full picture requires multiple measurements from different perspectives.


A personal example:

Remember the physical I mentioned in Part I? Sure, it turned out that my temperature was normal-for-me. Still, just having a “normal” temperature doesn’t mean you’re healthy.

While it certainly takes more time to answer all of those questions, to stare into bright lights and to get banged in the knee with a rubber mallet, it’s probably worthwhile. One data point does not a physical make.

Especially because I’m no medical expert, I appreciate the thoroughness of my team of healthcare professionals. No quick analysis that ignores potentially important symptoms, no treatment plan to address an issue that actually isn’t… go team!

Measuring success? More data points develop a better picture. #ButFirstData Click To Tweet

A survey story:

How do you know that students are successful in school? GPA? Attendance? Involvement in extracurriculars? Internships?

A recent survey of District of Columbia Public Schools teachers showed that teachers have been feeling pressure to keep up stats on one key measurement prioritized by the system: graduation rates. Following an investigation into allegedly inflated graduation rates at one high school, this survey collected feedback from 616 DCPS teachers.

Survey results showed that teachers felt pressure to ignore important facts like attendance, class performance and grades, and even violation of official policies, all with the goal in mind of passing students and improving the graduation rates.

As a teacher, I’m very sympathetic to the challenges of balancing a student’s needs and external priorities. As a researcher, I know it’s impossible for a school district — a unique and complex organism — to judge its success on one data point.

From graduation rates to standardized test scores, teachers around the world regularly face the demand to demonstrate measurable success. Still, when these measurements are applied by those outside of the classroom, it can be a challenge to keep the real focus on student success — from every angle.


Coming to a conclusion — you’re healthy, your school system is successful — isn’t based on some magical number of data points. Still, the more angles you can capture, the better perspective you’ll develop.

Now, excuse me while I head out into this beautiful, sunny day. Of course, I’ll be sure to check the temperature first… and the windchill… and the chance of precipitation…


Want more data? Get more data.