A Good Look

Six ways to make data work for teachers and their students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Woody Dillaha and Jeanette Haren

CREDIT Performance Matters.pngThanks to the rise of technology, K-12 teachers have more student data than ever. Even so, it’s not always easy to make decisions based on that data, particularly when it’s siloed into disparate systems.

When data is difficult to access, analyze or share, it can be a challenge to create a holistic view of student performance and growth. It can also be an onerous task to see how different areas might be impacting each another:

  • Has our new mathematics curriculum made a difference in student performance on local and state assessments?
  • Are the instructional strategies I learned in my last professional development course actually improving my students’ mastery of our reading standards?
  • How are factors such as attendance or behavior affecting my students’ academic performance?
  • How can I use student data from our last benchmark assessment in science to shape my professional learning choices?

According to a 2015 report published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, titled “Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work,” 93 percent of teachers regularly use some form of digital tool as an input to guide their instruction. However, more than 67 percent are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to.

Here are a few ways to make data work for teachers to help them better support their students’ learning as well as their own professional learning and growth.

Make it easy to access and analyze data.

Teachers have limited time. So, when data systems aren’t compatible or integrated, it can be difficult to carve out enough time to manually collect, aggregate and analyze data.

Good teaching is not just about knowledge or pedagogy, or taking part in PLCs or data meetings. It’s about relationships.

To make it easy for teachers to get a complete view of student performance, choose a student growth system that will integrate with existing data systems. For example, a student assessment and analytics system should include or be          compatible with other key analytics systems — e.g. a Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered System of Supports system, and an early warning system — and these should all be compatible with the district’s student information system.

Using a student growth system, teachers should be able to:

  • Access data from local assessments, historical state test results, and third party assessments, including drilling to specific standards.
  • “Drag and drop” multiple measures of student performance and college and career readiness, alongside demographic data.
  • Use interactive dashboards and reports to aggregate and disaggregate data for all of their classes and students.
  • See a longitudinal view of each student’s performance as well as their current results to inform personalized, targeted instruction.
  • Securely share live assessment results while maintaining student privacy.

Provide the training and the time for data analysis and action.

Easy-to-use data systems, however, are only part of the solution. Teachers should also be provided with the training and support they need to effectively use these technologies, and analyze and act on that data.

While some teachers may be data experts, others may not. In addition to in-person professional development (PD) on data management and analysis, it is helpful to offer online PD opportunities. This allows teachers to choose the right course at the right time, and complete it at their own pace. Micro-credentialing is also a great way to boost teachers’ comfort levels and skills in working with data.

Another way to build teachers’ expertise is to encourage collaboration. Set aside time in professional learning communities (PLCs) for data sharing and discussions, or create online PLCs. This collaboration not only helps teachers take ownership of their data, but it allows them to share and develop best practices for data-driven instruction and interventions.

Focus on growth, not gotcha.

The quickest way to foster open, honest data sharing is to make sure teachers understand that the purpose of all that data is growth. In districts where data is used punitively against teachers, there is often a sizable gap in trust between teachers and administrators. That makes it difficult to have productive conversations about what needs to happen to improve student growth. Instead, student data — and data from observations and evaluations — should be used to help each teacher create a personalized professional learning path.

A good way to build trust and accountability is for school leaders to schedule regular data meetings with teachers. This creates a setting where teachers can discuss where their students are and what they need to get them to the next level, and leaders can provide the guidance and support to make that happen. The outcome should be an action plan that will be implemented immediately. Following the meeting, real-time data can provide insights into how the plan is working and what needs to happen before the next data meeting.

Look at non-academic data, too.

Good teaching is not just about knowledge or pedagogy, or taking part in PLCs or data meetings. It’s about relationships. Data can provide useful insights to help teachers better understand and address their students’ unique needs, and build stronger student-teacher relationships.

With early warning indicators, for example, teachers can peek behind academic data and stay ahead of the curve. Factors such as attendance, discipline referrals, and mobility can all impact a student’s ability to learn. By digging into data other than assessment results, teachers can find the clues they need to intervene before small problems become large.

Further, by combining academic and non-academic data, teachers can paint a more complete picture of individual students, their struggles and successes. For example:

  • Did David fail his benchmark assessment because he hadn’t yet mastered the standards, or because he was absent for three days during that unit?
  • Did my fourth-period algebra class perform poorly on the practice test for our state assessment because they hadn’t yet mastered the standards, or because there were an unusually high number of discipline incidents that morning?

Armed with this information, teachers can adjust their classroom management and instructional strategies as needed.

Connect student and educator growth data.

Forward-thinking districts are taking this data-driven approach a step further by seeking ways to integrate student and educator growth data. With the right platform, for example, educators can access tools for student assessment development and delivery, as well as professional development, evaluation, and observation. Together these solutions, leveraged with a real-time analytics engine, provide specific, actionable insights that can boost student performance and build educator capacity.

Using a single platform that captures student and teacher actions, teachers can measure the impact of their professional development, as well as their educational programs and tools, to see if they are actually impacting student learning. They can create multi-dimensional views of their students’ growth and their own growth, and see how each is impacting the other.

Place student needs at the center of every decision.

With easy access to real-time data and analytics, teachers can build accountability and focus into their teaching, and ensure that student needs are at the center of every decision. They can adjust their instruction and interventions, and collaborate with their colleagues to close learning gaps and accelerate students’ progress. In addition, they can personalize their professional learning to accelerate their own growth and create a path to continuous improvement.

Woody Dillaha is the president and co-founder, and Jeanette Haren is the chief product officer and co-founder of Performance Matters.


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