By Teachers, For Teachers
This article is continued from Part 1.
Teachers at a school in Livermore, California examined student data in a way that allowed teachers to alter their instructional processes throughout the year to ensure that students continued to learn. This was accomplished via collaboration by grade level to review formative data, with a focus on teaching to the standards. Instructors benefited from strong leadership that never let go of their vision; modeling and supporting its program implementation at every step along the way (Bernhardt, 2009). Data-driven decisions help school leaders focus on cultivating academic performance for students and providing learning experiences that best meet the needs of the particular target group.
In the text Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound, Balls, Eury, and King point out that there is a significant difference between using data as information or knowledge. “Knowledge occurs from understanding the indicators of success and from the assessment of targeted weaknesses.” (Balls, Eury, and King 2011) They suggest that a school improvement team should look at a wide variety of data ranging from test results to attendance and tardiness data—and for instructors and administrators to ask themselves how the information could be used as a source of knowledge. This supports the idea that teachers can use data to target learning goals, which will allow for individualized differentiated instruction.
Only through appropriate learning accommodations can students realize their ultimate potential. The only way to gain an understanding of what learning accommodations are necessary is to determine what strengths/weaknesses are present. This must be done by carefully collecting and reviewing the proper data. With constant progress monitoring teachers can effectively drive instruction to match the needs of learners on a consistent basis. Data can come in the form of formative assessment that will allow teachers to focus on meeting learners where they are in the material vs. simply waiting for summative assessment results. This new movement will allow for all levels of learners to achieve at their own pace, at their own level, and in a way that will allow for continued growth throughout their academic career.
We are no longer limited to simply understanding the course standards or focusing on rote-memorization of varied items. We can now focus on taking the learner on a journey into the unknown and allowing them to find themselves enveloped in the learning experience, all the while collecting data to show that students are gaining knowledge and understanding of subject material without waiting for intermittent summative pieces. Students are no longer passengers in education; they can now drive the process and further determine the path or paths they choose to challenge and conquer.
In a 2006 publication Marsh, et al. stated that we are now working in an educational field where we are “completely data-driven.” (Marsh, et al. 2006) To that end, we must understand what data we have available on a day-to-day basis. We must also understand how to utilize this data, track student progress, and make appropriate adjustments to ensure student mastery. Through data, administration can determine if needs are being met and if the mission of the school is being accomplished.
Lastly, data can also be used to empower the vital stakeholders: students, parents, and teachers. Students can take ownership of their own learning process and growth. Parents are empowered because they are informed of their child’s test scores and the school’s overall performance. Teachers are able to have conversations with students and parents about data and test scores in ways that are meaningful to them. They become partners in education to come up with a plan that includes learning goals and specific ways that parents can support learning that takes place in the classroom. Parents feel proficient to make informed decisions about their child’s education because they are aware of their child’s academic progress.
Manitoba points out that the data that is collected should be used to begin dialogue among a school’s stakeholders for the purpose of moving towards meaningful change. (Manitoba 2001) Data should be used to inform students and parents about the learning process, and assist them in analyzing and utilizing that data to create plans to improve their child’s education. Instructors are now no longer solely responsible for student achievement and growth. With the new plethora of data pieces available and sourced, it is possible to share many items with parents and students in ways that transcend numbers and letters. We can now share with the stakeholders what is behind the score, what comprised the letter grade, and what this means for the child.
Meaningful change will happen when administrators and teachers are willing to make data driven, student-centered decisions for the betterment of the students and parents that they serve. Data can provide useful information in all scopes and sequences of academia. Data provides concrete evidence to inspire change. Instructors can benefit from administration that facilitates their quest to understand various pieces of data and their importance in regards to a child’s success. The data can then be utilized to make choices with the child in mind and communicate the necessity of change to parents and students in a way that has added value and meaning. Examples of excellence can then be shared with other schools and educators, providing the opportunity for staff to learn from each other. (Sagebrush Corp., 2004) When teachers are provided with opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other, self-efficacy and collective efficacy is enhanced. When efficacy is improved, school culture is improved. If used correctly, making data-driven decisions can manifest positive changes within a school and transform a school into an institution.
Allen D Eury, Ed D
Dean of School of Education, Gardner-Webb University
Hunter Jolley: Graduate Student at Gardner-Webb University
Lora McKillop: Graduate Student at Gardner-Webb University