School leaders and teachers have been besieged by national and local experts who emphasize the need to make “data-driven decisions.” Check the agenda for any educational conference and you will likely find the term “data-driven decision making” in the description of several speakers’ sessions. The term data-driven is a catchphrase of educational jargon that is gradually losing its meaning. Like a song that has been over-played on the radio, the concept of data-driven decision making is losing its momentum and “listeners” are beginning to tune out.
How do we re-invigorate the discussion around the meaningful use of data in our schools? Let’s start by broadening the definition of “data.” What comes to mind when someone suggests an examination of school data? Can we get beyond the obvious data sources and consider non-traditional data points that may be greater indicators of student success? Here are a few thoughts that may broaden our definition of data:
Attendance– It’s really simple; students who attend school regularly do better than students who don’t. What does your attendance data look like and what do you do when students don’t come to school?
Survey teachers– Ask your teachers what they see and what they need to be better at what they do. You can save a lot of time by valuing the instincts of your teachers.
Interview students– Ask your students what they like, what they want, and how they like to learn. Just be prepared for their answers.
Observe instruction– Another obvious data point. What patterns (positive and negative) exist within and between grade levels? How can we support teachers in the “nuts and bolts” of teaching?
Teacher expertise– How can we develop teachers on an individual level? Can we differentiate their professional development in the same spirit that we expect them to differentiate instruction for their students?
Grades– Are grading practices aligned with instruction? Are we examining progress toward the standards to refine our teaching?
Work samples/portfolios– Tests are not the only indicator of student success. Can students retain and apply what they have learned and does it show in their daily work? What does student work look like over time? Is measuring growth still relevant?
Data-driven decisions should not be limited by examining only formative and summative assessments over the course of a school year. Anecdotal and observational data are just as relevant when assessing student and teacher success. Ultimately, an emphasis on a variety of data sources will provide a clearer picture of student performance. Then you can get to work on what to do.