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November 1, 2015
Vol. 73
No. 3

Double Take

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Research Alert

How do teachers feel about using data to drive instruction—and what do they think about the digital products available to help them do so? A recent study of U.S. K–12 teachers by the Gates Foundation probed these questions.
Almost all of the 4,600 teachers surveyed (93 percent) use some form of digital tool to gather data and guide instruction, and a majority (61 percent) said data and digital tools make them better teachers. A primary way teachers want to use data is to gain insight into each student's strengths, weaknesses, and passions so they can personalize and differentiate instruction. Sixty-nine percent of teachers said tailoring instruction to meet individual students' needs is essential to raise achievement, and 78 percent said data help validate where each student is now and where he or she can go.
However, 67 percent of teachers "are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to." Respondents complained that many of these digital tools are
  • Overwhelming, with large amounts of data from disparate sources ("It's challenging to separate the signal from the noise").
  • Incompatible with one another (at times requiring manual aggregation of information).
  • Inconsistent in their ability to report detailed data.
  • Too slow to provide information in time to meaningfully modify instruction.
Teachers described what features they'd like to see in tools at each of the three phases of data-driven instruction—assessing, analyzing data, and adjusting instruction on the basis of what data analysis reveals. For assessment, teachers want tools that simplify data management, portray students holistically, assess student agency, and empower kids by giving them access to information about their progress. Tools for data analysis, they said, should "work at the speed of teaching," compare performance to standards, and reveal progress rather than static snapshots of performance. Finally, data tools should predict each student's future growth and challenges to help teachers tailor instruction to meet learners' individual needs.
The study, Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, released in June 2015 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is available at

Relevant Reads

Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation by Vicki Abeles (Simon and Schuster, 2015)

In this book (released with a documentary film), Vicki Abeles continues the campaign against standardized test scores as the primary measure of student achievement that she began with her 2009 documentary Race to Nowhere. The original documentary chronicled the lives of overworked, high-achieving U.S. students who, Abeles says, are stuck in "an education culture gone crazy with competition, and a society so obsessed with one narrow vision of success that it's making our children sick." The new book and film build on that work and also present stories illustrating alternatives—teachers who have cut students' workloads; students, parents, and educators who have refused to take or to administer standardized tests; schools that have instituted later start times; and other schools that are shifting the emphasis to "qualities that can't be measured by numbers."

Online Only

Data Privacy: Are Parents Paranoid?

A 2nd grade teacher uses the popular app Class Dojo to record positive student behaviors. The teacher considers the app to be a more efficient version of the paper chart and gold stars she's always used. But some parents have questions. Will a college admissions officer one day look at a database and conclude that their child was a "behavior problem" in kindergarten?
Learn more about parents' questions by listening to "Class Dojo: Do I Want It in My Child's Class?" an episode of the Note to Self (formerly New Tech City) audio podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi and produced by the public radio station WNYC, available at Class Dojo cofounder Sam Chaudhary states that student data on the app are deleted after one year and are not shared with outside vendors. But the podcast makes it clear that parents are right to be vigilant about data privacy—and that schools should take their concerns seriously.

Numbers of Note

Schools Gather More Data—But for What Purpose?

Sixty-seven percent of 317 surveyed educators in K–12 districts say their use of technology to gather student data has increased in the past two years. Here are some of the ways they're using data:
81% said they use digital student data "to track student performance."
68% said they use digital student data to "identify student instructional needs."
52% said they use digital student data "to personalize learning."
<ATTRIB> Source: Software Information Industry Association's 2015 Vision K-20 Survey, an annual online self-assessment for educators and education leaders hosted on the Vision K-20 website. </ATTRIB>


When teachers are really paying attention to each child—to the whole child, and not just to the child's scores—students feel "known."
Karen Engels

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

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