Is your school using data to improve teaching and learning?

UnknownHow well does your school/district synthesize and analyze data to improve student achievement?  If you are not using data to the extent you want to, what are your barriers? Time? Process? ManPower? Too many state initiatives?  For many of us, the list goes on…and on!

This semester, I am teaching a graduate course at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. During our first class, these veteran teachers shared their challenges with analyzing data in their roles and buildings. While we celebrated some successes, there was no shortage of challenges.

As part of the course, we are using DataWise: A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Assessment Result to Improve Teaching and Learning (edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett, Elizabeth A. City, and Richard J. Murnane).  The editors are all lecturers/professors at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Analyzing data can be an elusive process for school teams, and this book can help you bring clarity to your process.  The book includes protocols for difficult conversations and ideas for bringing everyone to consensus. There is even a companion book – Data Wise in Action (edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Jennifer L. Steele) which includes stories of schools using data to improve teaching and learning.  This practical application provided thought-provoking scenarios and discussion questions to help us navigate the challenges of data-driven decision making.

The authors break the process into three easily understood phases: Prepare, Inquire, and Act. That doesn’t seem scary, right?  Of course, it will take a commitment, time, and bringing the right people to the table.

First, in Phase 1 – Prepare, the authors encourage us to organize for collaborative work and build assessment literacy.  

Step 1 – Organizing for Collaborative Work

Does your school have a school-wide process for structuring meetings/capturing conversations? Does the master schedule provide time for all necessary stakeholders to attend these meetings? During the focused meetings, do teams have and abide by norms? Has the instructional leadership team created and shared data and instructional initiative inventories?  If not, this phase may help you make your work more collaborative, transparent, and effective.  Once you are prepared to do this work together, you need to investigate each team member’s assessment literacy. The Hopes and Fears Protocol followed by the Norms Protocol is a great way to get started.

Step 2 – Building Assessment Literacy

The second part of Phase 1 investigates assessment literacy. Do your staff members work with each other to increase their understanding of the data tools? For example, our teachers can access PVAAS, eMetric, Study Island, and many more! Do staff members or leaders share mini-lessons about score reports? Can staff members explain the content of a score report?  Do staff members hold each other accountable for using data responsibly?

Then, in Phase 2 – Inquire, the authors underscore the importance of creating a data overview, digging into the data, and examining instructional practice. 

Step 3 – Creating a Data Overview

Do your staff members work together to synthesize data into a usable format and visual display? Can they show you their data in a way that helps you understand it?  Once they have their data, can they dig into it? Do they use protocols to investigate and ask questions about their data?  Can they tell you “a story” about their data?

Step 4 – Digging into Data

Do your staff members access a wide variety of student data? Do they understand the data is everywhere? During the meeting, can they use protocols to come to a shared understanding of what the data says? Can your staff identify a learner-centered problem?

Step 5 – Examining Instruction

So you will really need the shared norms and collaborative culture to move into step 5 in which teachers investigate the instructional practices in the school.  Peer visits and open and honest debriefings are critical in developing a share understanding of a problem of practice.

Next, in Phase 3 Act, the authors guide us to develop an action plan and a plan to assess progress.

Step 6 – Developing an Action Plan

Do your teams work  collaboratively to select research-based instruc5onal strategies to address a problem of practice? Do they share and teach these practices? Do they hold each other accountable for learning and using these practices through a written plan?

During my class, some students expressed concerns about becoming too cookie-cutter. That is not the case. The practice may look different in different context, but everyone needs to be committed to it. Consider activating schema as a strong instructional practice. This could look like a science teacher showing the lab materials and talking about each item before distributing a lab. It could look like a social studies teacher showing and talking about a primary resource before students read about it in the text.

Step 7 – Planning to Assess Progress

Do your teams regularly set and monitor goals. With the introduction of Student Learning Objectives in PA’s Educator Effectiveness Model, we are seeing more and more of this. In this step, teachers need to begin with the end in mind. They need to set individual and group level learning goals.  Additionally, they need to determine which assessments they will use to measure short-term and long-term progress.

Step 8 – Acting and Assessing

In the last step, the team needs to assess the implementation of their action plan. Did they do what they said they were going to do? If not, why not?  What did work, and how can you celebrate the successes along the way  Looking at the short, medium and long-term data, teachers can assess the impact of their plan.

Finally, in Section 4 – Integrate, the authors shared roles for central office and advice for how to improve.

In the final section, the authors write for superintendents and school leaders.  They discuss the data system, access to the system, time for data work, and the importance of modeling the work. They share their ideas, thoughts, and connections for how we improve.

Embedded throughout the phases are protocols to aid in the process.  In order to be successful in each step, your building/district will need to cultivate the ACE habits of mind.  Take a look and think about your context and whether or not these habits exist within your stakeholders/stakeholder teams.

A – Shared Commitment to Action, Assessment, and Adjustment

C – Intentional Collaboration

E – Relentless Focus on Evidence

You can learn more about the phases, view key tasks in each step, and even use a self-reflection tool to gauge your current practice at the DataWise Project Website at

Harvard even offers a free online course, which I am considering taking this summer! It might be something valuable for our building leaders who interact with student data on a daily basis.


What challenges and/or successes do your instructional teams have when analyzing data?


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