What Do We Do With All This Data?
I recently read an article in my November edition of Educational Leadership that was timely considering we just received student test scores from last spring. We’ve waited months to see the impact of our year-long efforts from a year ago, and now we need to best decide how to use this data to guide current instruction and prepare for this year’s assessment which is just 4-1/2 short months away. According to Amanda Datnow and Vicki Park’s article “5 (Good) Ways to Talk About Data”, there are five key components that teams within a school need to consider when looking at data. I’ve taken these five key points and added my own thoughts to supplement their ideas.
- Students are the shared responsibility of everyone. There’s too much at stake and it’s too much responsibility for one person to bear on their own – grade level teachers and support teachers need to all take ownership of the students and their progress. It’s not a competition between teachers and their test scores, rather we can all learn from one another and find out what one teacher did that can help students in your classroom. This is another great reason to share grade level students during daily RTI segments. If the team focuses on the data-driven needs of all the students and discuss their progress or gaps, then multiple teachers can strategize on ways to meet each child’s needs and place them in an RTI group accordingly. It is the team’s responsibility to improve student achievement, not just the homeroom teacher.
- Conversations about data include healthy disagreement. When teachers meet to discuss the data, they may not always agree on why students performed at a particular level. Was it the way the questions were worded? Student interest level or effort? Pacing? Class dynamics? Or did the teacher try a strategy or activity that had direct impact on performance? Disagreements are expected when several adults are discussing something they’re passionate about, but the discussions need to be handled in a respectful manner that focus on the goal of improved practice, not just a venting session. An unhealthy and unproductive alternative is to ignore the conversation completely because you know there will be differing opinions, but it is best to set norms at the beginning of the year so team meetings are a safe place for sharing all ideas where teachers don’t feel judged, everyone listens with respect, and decisions are made that focus on what’s best for students.
- Conversations about data engender trust rather than suspicion. This one encompasses multiple levels of trust – trust that your team and administration are not simply looking at data and making judgments, and trust that your teammates are genuinely doing their best to help students grow at high levels. Understanding your colleagues and the challenges they face in their classroom will help you respond in a helpful manner to their concerns and find ways to discuss the assets students bring to the classroom rather than just their deficits. As an administrative team, we will use data to look for patterns in ways we need to improve as a school, not as a ‘gotcha’ for low scores.
- Data teams take a solution-oriented approach. Being a reflective educator has the most impact with this component. Rather than just picking and choosing data points and making quick decisions to make changes, it’s best to look at the data and reflect on what contributed to the success or difficulties in those areas and why what you did may or may not have made a positive impact on student learning before proposing a possible solution. Sometimes more is needed for the teachers to be able to prepare their students for success, so teacher professional learning will need to occur before student learning can excel, but getting to the root of the instructional practice or lack thereof can help make solution-oriented decisions.
- Data teams know what they’re expected to accomplish. What is the purpose of looking at data with your team? Does everyone see the value of spending time together to look at data? How often should data be reviewed and specifically, what data is being discussed? While there are a lot of questions to ask and answer, the key is that these collegial conversations are happening on a continual basis using not only state testing scores, but formative and summative assessments as well. When you meet to discuss county assessment results, do you see a difference in performance with certain standards between the classes, did the majority of students miss a particular problem? As an administrative team, we are not as concerned about your team following a regimented protocol for your data meetings or even that you are documenting all of your data in a uniform chart. We know that if these intentional conversations occur and are focused on observational and assessment data that teams will be reflective and committed to determining the next course of action for specific students and standards. The ultimate goal of data teams is to improve instruction and learning for all students while also embedding time for teachers to share and learn from their peers. Authentic professional learning which then translates into changed classroom teaching behavior at its finest.
Datnow, A. and Park, V. (2015, November). 5 (Good) Ways to Talk About Data. Educational Leadership, 73(3), 10-15.