Data to What End?

At this time of year, between preparing for tax filling, FAFSA forms, and figuring budgets for the coming year I seem to be awash in data. Being awash in data may be a similar experience for teachers and administrators in schools. We collect data on attendance, health, behavior, performance, perceptual data and anecdotal data. Over the past years, we have heard and learned a great deal about data driven decisions, data inquiry, data meetings, and data protocols. However the fact remains that if we do nothing about the data gathered the effort, energy and information becomes little better than background noise.

SEDL (formally known as Southwest Education Development Laboratory) reminds us that “ Research has shown that using data in instructional decisions can lead to improved student performance (Wayman, 2005; Wayman, Cho, & Johnston, 2007; Wohlstetter, Datnow, & Park, 2008). No single assessment can tell educators all they need to know to make well-informed instructional decisions, so researchers stress the use of multiple data sources….. But when it comes to improving instruction and learning, it’s not the quantity of the data that counts, but how the information is used (Hamilton et al., 2009).”

So how might data be used to make meaningful decisions? What Works Clearinghouse provides an overview of what educators can do to change student outcomes through the use of data. The recommendations include:

  • prioritizing instructional time
  • targeting additional individual instruction for students who are struggling with particular topics
  • more easily identifying individual students’ strengths and instructional interventions that can help students continue to progress
  • gauging the instructional effectiveness of classroom lessons
  • refining instructional methods
  • examining schoolwide data to consider whether and how to adapt the curriculum based on information about students’ strengths and weaknesses

This source also includes checklists and suggestions for establishing a culture that uses data. Likewise, Engage NY offers samples and resources also for data inquiry practices.

Furthermore, the following pictorial representation from Doing What Works from US Department of Education provides a graphic representation of use of data. Included is the importance for establishing, nurturing and sustaining a culture for data use and incorporating students setting their own goals by using data.

Given all the attention on why the use of data is important and how to establish teams and systems within districts and schools in the end it does come down to the student level. How can we best foster the learning of an individual student? Building upon the research identified through McRel’s work (Classroom Instruction That Works )we know that involving students to collect, analyze , create goals and action plans can and does make a significant difference in student achievement. Furthermore, Ron Berger, Leah Rugen and Libby Woodfin make this case in their book, Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment: “The most powerful determinants of student growth are the mindsets and learning strategies that students themselves bring to their work—how much they care about working hard and learning, how convinced they are that hard work leads to growth, and how capably they have built strategies to focus, organize, remember, and navigate challenges.” In a blog, that is actually an excerpt from the book, posted Sept 8, 2014 the authors detail ways that classroom practices build student capacity to use data. As a sample, the following are ways to use data with students to foster their growth and capacity.

  • Students use their classwork as a source for data, analyzing strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to improve their work.
  • Students regularly analyze evidence of their own progress. They track their progress on assessments and assignments, analyze their errors for patterns, and describe what they see in the data about their current level of performance.
  • Students use data to set goals and reflect on their progress over time and incorporate data analysis into student-led conferences.

The importance of involving and including students is well documented. However, the authors caution that just sharing assessment results is not adequate. We need to include instruction, modeling and practice in the use of data. “When students themselves identify, analyze, and use data from their learning, they become active agents in their own growth. They set personal goals informed by data they understand, and they own those goals.” (Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment).  

The desired goal is to have a classroom culture in which students are always collecting and analyzing information in order to improve their performance. A practical goal towards life-long skills of managing data and revising behavior or goals based on that data (such as tax obligations and budgeting)!

Radicello_Lynn_WEBLynn Radicello

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