Magazine article Technology & Learning

Driving Decisions with Data

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Driving Decisions with Data

Article excerpt

In the best-case scenarios, educators are able to use data to assess student performance so that they can better plan, implement and revise instruction. Research shows that if instructional plans are based on assessment data, it's more likely that students will attain the desired learning outcomes.

In reality, however, using data is not so easy. Teachers and administrators need to be data literate. District leaders must encourage and assist educators in understanding the importance of relating valid student assessment information to instructional practice. And perhaps trickiest of all, the school culture needs to be one in which teachers can collaborate, share information, and not be intimidated by what the data may show.

School CIO spoke with a few districts to see where they are in the data-driven decision-making process. Hopefully their experiences can help you in handling your own data-driven decisions.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MEETS DATA

For Donna Lee Mitchell, deputy officer, teacher and leader effectiveness unit for professional development for the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), there's a two-word answer to helping districts understand how to work with data: data coaching.

With part of the state's Race to the Top funds, DDOE contracted with Wireless Generation (www.wirelessgeneration.com) to send 29 data coaches to work with teachers in all of Delaware's schools. Data coaches work with groups of teachers who look at their own data in real time. The coaches show teachers how to speak about data and use it to draw conclusions and improve instructional planning. The educators learn how to understand patterns and find and evaluate the solutions. If ifs done right, says Wireless Generation's Alan Stadtmauer, the coach coaches herself out of a job.

Each school has to provide 90 minutes of collaborative planning time a week per teacher, which is handled differently by every school, says Mitchell. The data coaches work with data from state and classroom assessments and help teachers and administrators learn to look at it and make informed decisions about planning, practice, and activities beyond what they are currently doing with data. They can see which strategies work better than others and share best practices across grades, departments, and schools. i'

Delaware has a statewide student accounting system that houses discipline, achievement, and attendance information so the coaches can work with several schools. If a district uses an additional technology product, the entire district uses it, which helps to streamline the tools the coaches and educators need to understand.

Mitchell is pleased with the data-coaching model. "We're hearing everything from 'this isn't the best use of time' to 'this is what we've been missing; and everything in between," she says, "but the waste-of-time comments are diminishing."

Wireless Generation's Stadtmauer, who oversees data coaching, says this method is effective because teachers are overwhelmed by data and need a simple approach. "They have to learn how to figure out what to do next. It's a core skill teachers need." We must help teachers learn how to look for patterns across an entire class.

Jamie Lee, a former Delaware high school English teacher who is now a data coach, says the key to helping teachers is to give them adequate time to reflect, plan, and analyze. "Data isn't just numbers all the time," she says. "It's looking at what interventions and curricular resources are available and how they are working. We are constantly asking each other, 'Are we seeing patterns that tell us to adjust the instruction?"

LEVERAGING THE DATA WAREHOUSE

About 10 years ago, Cumberland County Schools (CCS) in North Carolina formed its own data warehouse. Because NC has a statewide student information system, CCS wanted to download the data for the statewide student information system (SIS) and store it in a centralized place where people could track data for any given student. …

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