Data…Principal’s and Coach’s Role

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Often when working in schools with PLC’s, the topic of data and what to do with it and about it emerges. I frequently find that lots of instructional coaches’ time is spent scheduling assessments to gather data, entering the data, interpreting the data, distributing the data, and reviewing the data with teachers who respond with less than an enthusiastic ear.

“ …some teachers actually refer to data as ‘ the other four letter word’—time being the first one. Teachers say that pouring over reams of data takes time from where they want to be — in the classroom with students. Skepticism abounds, and concerns about how the data are used are very real. Some educators worry that the data are part of a “gotcha”, being used to evaluate their performance in unrealistic ways. What’s more, they say the data they are being required to examine has little utility in their practice.” (Phi Delta Kappan, February 2015, page 25)

Here are a few thoughts I have shared with teachers, instructional leaders and principals:

Data produces questions not answers. A data wall should become a Questions Wall.

Several years ago I heard Andy Hargraves comment that schools should not be data driven but instead data rich. Data driven could suggest that the data makes decisions. I don’t want my blood pressure deciding my medication. I do want my doctor to have lots of data and the doctor make the decision. Teaching decisions should be made by teachers and the richer the information they have about the learners, the better.

When possible have teachers predict what assessment data will show.

I find this strategy increases the quantity and quality of questions emerging from a data review. When differences exist between predictions and data results, questions emerge. Questions are the element that leads a PLC conversation to critical thinking and the design of a plan for action to generate a desired student learning outcome. Action is crucial for teachers to find value in working with data.

Limit the amount of data that teachers are working with.

In many elementary schools I find teachers spend too much time collecting and/or examining too much data. In these cases they rarely get to action. That lack of action leads to great frustration. Instructional leaders should work with teachers to select the most important data to support decisions about crucial areas of student learning. The school improvement plan probably helps identify where to begin.

Teachers need to trust the data they are working with.

I have frequently been in the middle of PLC data meetings where teachers are expressing doubt in the accuracy of the data in identifying students’ learning achievement. My first response is to encourage teachers to gather assessment documents from their classrooms that illustrate “why they doubt “ and share that with their PLC colleagues for study. In some cases I’ve encouraged PLCs to create their own assessment that they feel more accurately identifies student current mastery. Leaders need to build trust in the data to gain teachers investment in the process.

Spend PLC time studying student work samples as well as data.

 My experiences are that teachers move to action more readily from conversations around student work samples. With secondary teachers, examining students’ actual work or test documents generates more “ideas” than just discussing scores.

The Kappan article (page 27) lists some effective uses of data.

*using data to differentiate instruction and group students

* using data walls to organize and understand data and to discuss with other teachers what the data show, set goals and identify problems of practice

*using student artifacts to collaborate with others to improve teaching practice

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Ethical and Appropriate Data Use Requires Data Literacy, Mandinach,Ellen; Parton,Brennan; Gummer,Edith;Anderson,Rachel; Phi Delta Kappan, February 2015.(pages 25-28)

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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