December 2008/January 2009
| Volume 66 | Number 4
Data: Now What?
EL Study Guide
Test scores, formative assessment data, teacher observations, dropout rates, attendance reports—it seems that there's no end to the data schools can collect these days. But what's the point of collecting data if it doesn't transform instruction? The December 2008/January 2009 issue of Educational Leadership
discusses the uses and misuses of education data.
The Politicization of Research
In "The Spectrum of Education Data," Jeffrey R. Henig explains how research can become politicized, with interest groups selectively reporting data, critiquing their opponents' methodology, and funding their own studies.
- In his article, Henig discusses charter schools as one example of an issue that has become politicized to the point that it is difficult to discern what research findings actually reveal. What are some of the other areas that have become politicized in this way?
- Select a recent news article reporting on education research. Education Week is a good source. Do a search for the original report, as well as any press releases or opinion pieces on the study. Examine these various pieces of information for indications of bias. In your opinion, have any of the authors writing about the report misrepresented the data in order to support their point of view? If so, how?
- Ideally, educators would take the time to read multiple studies that represent a variety of perspectives; however, the reality is that busy teachers and administrators do not always have time to devote to such activities. How can educators separate the good research and reports from the bad when their time is so limited? How might professional learning communities and study groups be part of this effort?
Be Data Smart, Not Stupid
In "The New Stupid," Frederick M. Hess writes about how in embracing data, educators are sometimes quick to launch new reforms without "asking hard questions, considering organizational realities, and contemplating unintended consequences" (p. 14).
- Think about the data-driven reform efforts have you been involved with. What hard questions were asked before the reform was launched? What more could have been done to prepare for unintended consequences?
- Hess describes how some aspiring superintendents treated questions as distractions, saying, "We need to act." How can educators ask the hard questions that can prevent a half-baked application of data without becoming bogged down in "paralysis by analysis" and failing to act at all?
Answering Essential Questions
In "Answering the Questions That Count," David Ronka, Mary Ann Lachat, Rachel Slaughter, and Julie Meltzer advocate organizing data use around essential questions.
- Generate a list of essential questions about student performance. In your group, narrow the list down to no more than five or six questions you'd like to pursue.
- Select one question from the list and decide what data you would need to answer that question. Is this data readily available? If not, how might you go about collecting it?
- What infrastructure does your school have in place for disseminating, analyzing, and applying data? What challenges do you face in creating a culture of collecting and using high-quality data? How might the approach described in this article help?
Breaking Down Internal Silos
In "The Assessment Double Play," Roberta Buhle and Camille L. Z. Blachowicz assert that teachers need to break down the silos in their thinking that keep them from connecting what they learn from data with appropriate instructional improvements. They tell the story of a group of teachers who were given data indicating that their students were performing well in letter recognition. When given an opportunity to propose literacy strategies for their students, the teachers agreed to pursue a curriculum that included extensive instruction in letter recognition.
- Why might teachers make decisions like this that seem to run counter to the data in front of them? How can data coaches and other teacher leaders sensitively break down these internal silos?
- Look at the results from an assessment given at your school. What does this information tell you about student performance? What strategies might you implement to bring about improvements in the areas where students need the most help? When generating a list of strategies, make a direct connection to the data: "Because students' scores in letter recognition were strong, they appear to be ready to practice emergent writing. I'm going to start assigning a short writing activity every day and spend less time working on the letter of the week."
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development