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November 1, 2015
Vol. 73
No. 3

Tell Me About … / An Obstacle You Encountered in Using Data

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Give Us a Seat at the Table

Despite growing poverty, my great elementary school consistently scores well on standardized measures of achievement and surveys of student, community, and teacher satisfaction. We believe in the power of data and the call for teachers to use three data points to make decisions. Recently a consultant admonished us for including teacher anecdotal data as a factor in making decisions—instead, we should stick to hard data. What an alienating and nonsensical notion!
Using hard data to inform teaching is a must in order to meet students where they are and help each learner make a year's growth in a year's time. However, an important data point comes from the daily interactions between students and their teachers. As highly educated professionals, we have valid information. Want the use of data to improve learning? Give teachers a seat at the table.
Rita Platt, teacher-librarian, St. Croix Falls School District, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

Collaborative Analysis

Because I am qualitative by nature, I love administering open-ended response surveys several times a year. I compile, synthesize, and share the data results, then work with my staff to plan improvement strategies to address the concerns raised in the data. This process has greatly improved the trust and transparency at my school. I have noticed that numerical data overwhelms and confuses me, so I tend to avoid studying numerical data alone. Thankfully my assistant principals, leadership team members, and most of my teachers are adept at using numerical data to suggest next steps in our cycle of continuous improvement. Ours is a best-of-both-worlds story told in words and numbers!
Amanda Corbin-Staton, principal, Newport News Public Schools, Newport News, Virginia

Ease of Access

The most serious obstacles I face pertain to the data being housed in various web hosts, making it either too time-consuming to find and gather or inaccessible to me as a teacher. If we want teachers to make effective data-driven decisions, they should have easy access to all the data they need.
Stacy Lemongelli, NBCT, secondary language arts teacher, Perth Amboy Public Schools, Perth Amboy, New Jersey

What Data Actually Mean

The most serious obstacle I face is showing teachers what data are actually telling them. Many teachers have their own perception of what the data mean, which can be detrimental to student outcomes, perceptions of ability, and student groupings. We need to change the perceptions of how data support instruction and hold teachers accountable for implementation of these cultural shifts.
Luis A. Oviedo, education support consultant, Imagine Learning, St. Paul, Minnesota

Accentuate the Positive

My greatest challenge with data analysis is conversing honestly—and positively—with teachers about data to facilitate change and improvement. Any analysis that identifies areas for teacher improvement comes with negative connotations, often diminishing the climate and culture. To avoid this negativity, we use a data-analysis system that focuses on individual students and the positive actions of the staff members who work with them.
Classroom teacher leaders review grade-level achievement data to find out which students made above-expected growth and meet or exceed grade-level standards. The teacher leaders interview these students to further investigate which practices led to their exceptional results. We use the interview notes to determine what teacher techniques and interventions are promoting success. This technique results in a healthy perspective of data, accentuation of the positive, and replication of effective programming for students.
Kyle Rhoads, principal, Windham Primary School, Windham, Maine

Finding Time for Data

My school faces two major obstacles in using data. First, we have so much formal assessment taking place that it can be difficult to choose the most accurate data for making instructional decisions. The data we get from federal- and state-mandated tests are usually old by the time we get them, so they aren't useful for making instructional decisions on the current year. Instead, we've found the best data come from two nonmandated assessments.
Our second obstacle is how difficult and time-consuming it is to break down the data to make decisions for individual students. We've done some good work individualizing data by student so we can adjust instruction to meet individual needs, but finding this time during contract hours has been a significant challenge.
Robert Williams, principal, Nye County School District, Amargosa Valley, Nevada

I've Assessed My Students … Now What?

Schools have become very good at collecting data on students—some may even say we over-assess our students. But what are we doing with that data? It's the "now what?" that we get hung up on, that leaves us falling short of truly making a difference with our students and what we know about their deficits.
To alleviate this problem, schools need to have "just right" interventions in place with a qualified interventionist who can help the teacher and staff interpret the data, create a quality plan of intervention with appropriate strategies, help monitor whether the intervention was effective, and redesign and implement a new plan of action. We need this kind of expert within our school buildings to help us use our data more effectively and ultimately increase students' learning.
Shelley Peets, principal, Spring Lake Public Schools, Spring Lake, Michigan

Putting Data to Work

Data is like the diet plan I have sitting on the corner of my desk; if it just sits there, it does nothing! If I don't know how to actually interpret and apply the data to what I am teaching, it will make no difference at all. We need to help our teachers not only find the data needed, but also apply data to their instruction!
Amber Teamann, principal, Wylie ISD, Wylie, Texas

Focusing In

Looking at the data from the previous year shows me what I, as a classroom teacher, need to do to support different skill areas. I can see where the instruction and learning must have gone well and which areas will need more focus. Are my students understanding the concepts being taught? Can they apply the skills? For me, questioning and frequent testing drive my instructional focus.
Alma Davis, principal and teacher, Inglewood Unified District, Inglewood, California

Tools for Formative Assessment

One of the most challenging obstacles I've encountered is a lack of resources for effective and efficient data collection, analysis, and progress monitoring at the high school level. As students transition out of elementary school, we have fewer useful tools to track student mastery. At the same time, there is more specialization of content, significantly widening the net of skills and knowledge to assess. To clear this hurdle, many middle and high school teachers develop their own formative assessments. However, the next obstacle becomes struggling through the data-collection process, poring over student work, tallying trends in student responses, and entering data into spreadsheets to facilitate further analysis. The momentum for data-based inquiry is often lost in this process.
In recent years, my team has had luck finding systems that streamline this process, but continual improvement is needed. All educators, but high school teachers most urgently, need accessible, intuitive technology systems that support implementation of formative assessment to improve learning, confirm mastery, and ensure students are college- and career-ready.
Jennifer Rees, vice principal for data and accountability, East High School, University of Rochester Educational Partnership Rochester, New York

In Search of Best Practices

Our biggest obstacles are knowing how best to use our most meaningful sources of data, making sure they're meaningful, and keeping our curriculum standards at the forefront. It would help to hear processes and procedures used by schools who have been successful in this.
Melissa Maples, data and RTI coordinator, Instituto San Roberto, Monterrey, Mexico

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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