In most schools, we have plenty of data. It is usually assumed that more data means better outcomes for students. This very well could be true, but I believe most schools are DRIP (Data Rich, Information Poor) schools. We have the data, but what does any of it mean? Using data helps us to guide both learning and instruction, but it has to have context. Teachers must know how to reference the data and how to form context around it.
Collecting the data is the easy part. Assessments abound all around us, and we layer benchmarks on top of formatives on top of summatives on top of progress monitoring—not to mention classroom assessments. It takes a great deal of time and resources to administer all of this, but unless these numbers turn into action, it becomes a giant waste.
Making Sense of the Data
Teachers must be provided with a process in order to make sense of the information. There is not a one-size-fits-all method for working with data, but there are some best practices that can be adhered to. These should help any school team at any level to create information from the numbers, which can turn into actionable plans for kids.
Here are some of the critical components to this process:
Time: This is, by far, the most critical factor in the process. When teachers have time to really look at data, they will learn from it. Timing is important to consider, too. Teachers should have access to the data soon after it has been obtained, but the time that teachers need to dive deep into it will need to come from professional learning time in the calendar or through getting a substitute during the school week. The time to interpret data should be part of any data calendar and plan for a school. Also, remember that to really look deeply at data takes time, so guard against looking at too much data at once. A good rule of thumb is that if it cannot be digested all at once, you are probably collecting too much data.
Technical Skill: Those of us nerds who enjoy looking at data probably have the tools we need to digest it, but not all teachers are like this. Make sure all teachers have the technical know-how to access scores, sort them, and then draw conclusions from them. Training in the assessment tool might be needed, but it could be training in Excel or Sheets that is needed as well.
Structured Process: It can be overwhelming to start looking at data. Teachers may not know where to start, so a good process should be in place for how to approach the numbers. It is also good to use a process to suspend conclusions until everyone has had time to process. Some teachers instantly move into a making excuses mode when they start looking at data. A process helps to diminish the defensiveness that can come when we personalize the numbers.
Action Plans and Follow-Up: By the end of the review process, teachers should have actionable plans in place to move forward. The data should drive these discussions, but the actions are much more important than the data itself. The action plans should have a method for indicating how to know if the plan is working, along with an accountability measure for when this data will be looked at. This makes the plan transparent so we are able to share with all necessary staff and parents to help move the needle with our students.
In Visible Learning, John Hattie draws a surprising conclusion about feedback. It isn’t that teachers need to provide more feedback for students, it’s that students need to provide more feedback for teachers. This implies that teachers are listening and are, in a way, students of our students. All of the data we collect is feedback, and it is often better feedback than other sources. Psychometricians and test creators have researched how to best discover if a student has learned a concept, so if we gather this data and listen to the feedback the students are giving us about their learning, amazing outcomes can be had. Teachers need time, skill, and a process to create these outcomes. When provided with these, students learn.
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