DATA: Meaningful Analysis Can Rescue Schools from Drowning in Data

By Reeves, Douglas B.; Flach, Tony et al. | The Learning Professional, August 2011 | Go to article overview

DATA: Meaningful Analysis Can Rescue Schools from Drowning in Data


Reeves, Douglas B., Flach, Tony, Torma, Denise, von Frank, Valerie, The Learning Professional


Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning have the potential to influence educational policy and practice in profound ways for the systems that are courageous enough to take them seriously, and the Data standard is a critical element systemwide. Schools are overwhelmed with data warehouses, colorful charts and graphs, and endless PowerPoint presentations. The millions of dollars that governments at all levels are investing in data systems will be wasted unless significantly greater attention is paid to the systematic evaluation of teaching and leadership decisions based on data. However, in many schools, the availability of data is inversely proportional to meaningful analysis. The reality is that many common practices substitute the appearance of data analysis for the reality of substantive analysis

To realize the achievement of the Data standard, we offer three imperatives for school leaders and policymakers. First, close the implementation gap for professional learning standards. To close the gap between the aspirations expressed in the standards documents and the reality of educational systems, leaders at every level must hold themselves accountable for the implementation of the standards. Second, change accountability from an evaluation system, linked to punishments and rewards to a learning system. Feedback for improved performance has a greater impact on morale and productivity than the use of the same data for financial incentives alone. We recognize the present political reality that data will be used for economic incentives; we are suggesting, however, that the massive investment that educational systems are making in data systems could be used for far more constructive purposes. Third, change data system investment strategy from one that disproportionately allocates resources to hardware, software, and data warehouses to new strategies that disproportionately allocate resources of money and time to data analysis and decision-making processes. With these emphases, the Standards for Professional Learning will have the opportunity to influence student learning and improve teaching and leadership effectiveness. Without these imperatives, however, teachers and leaders will continue to be drowning in data but failing to have the time, professional learning, and leadership support to use data to improve teaching and learning.

CLOSING THE IMPLEMENTATION GAP

Consider the fate of academic content standards over the past two decades. In some schools, standards formed the basis of new curricula, teaching methods, assessments, and grading systems. When the work of students was compared to a clear and objective standard rather than to that of other students, both academic achievement and educational equity improved. Standards-based education allowed researchers from multiple perspectives to document sustained improvements in a variety of schools. Marzano (2007) and Hattie (2009) provide meta-analytical approaches that offer compelling evidence of the impact on student achievement when students have learning goals that are explicit and teachers provide accurate and specific feedback to improve performance related to those learning goals. Hattie in particular describes the power of feedback from formative assessments. Teachers use the formative assessments to provide meaningful recommendations for improved performance to students as well as using that feedback to understand the effectiveness of their instructional practices. Hargreaves and Shirley (2009) and Fullan (2010) complement that research with case studies of sustainable system reform, while Anderson (2010) links specific gains in student achievement to comprehensive and consistent data analysis. Certainly the standards movement alone was not responsible for all of these improvements; when the right "constellation of practices" (Reeves, 2011a) came together, improvement was significant and sustained. The last study, including an analysis of student results over three years in more than 2,000 schools, suggested that of 21 teaching and leadership practices observed, effective monitoring of student, teacher, and leadership data was significantly more powerful than other variables, particularly when effective monitoring was combined with leadership focus and teacher efficacy. …

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