Before data is able to help improve student learning, teachers need to be able to access it. Data is a resource that educators can use to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching and learning. When an intent is placed on improving learning, areas of weakness can be identified and improved. Additionally, strengths can be examined to identify and continue to develop successful practices. My colleagues and I have more experience intentionally gathering, analyzing, and utilizing data to improve student behavior than academics. As a result, we are not intentionally following a trajectory of continuous academic improvement.
Behavior DataA few years ago, I served on my school’s Building Effective Schools Together (BEST) committee. During the training, which was led by Dr. Jeffrey Sprague the University of Oregon Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior, we were coached to collect student behavior data, identify areas in need of support, and implement lessons to teach specific desired behaviors.
The insight of Henry Ford, which was also referenced by Edmondson (2010), “If you don’t measure it, you won’t improve it” applied to our practice. We measured behaviors by tracking offenses identified on office referrals and in attendance patterns. Then we created interventions based on documented patterns instead of assumptions and emotions. Ward, Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2013) claim “The challenge, as we see it, is to view data--not intuition, not anecdotal reports--as the tools we use to get better at teaching students.” Our experience validated this claim. The data served as a tool to help increase desired behaviors, and we were able to focus on teaching students instead of consequencing them. For example, after identifying that a large number of referrals were earned during passing periods and many students were frequently tardy, the BEST committee facilitated a professional learning workshop to teach adults to stand at classroom doors and in the corridors during passing periods to greet students, engage in conversations, compliment positive behaviors, and monitor to redirect potential negative behaviors. In addition to using the data to identify this area of need, we were able to later prove that our intervention was successful with data that proved a decrease in passing period office referrals and tardies.
Unfortunately, over the past three years, the BEST committee has not been able to meet, our intentional data collection has stopped, and we are no longer providing behavior professional learning based on behavior data. Most teachers do not greet students at the door and tardies are again an area of concern.
Academic Data By using behavior data, my colleagues and I were able to support learning by helping students enter our classrooms on time and in positive moods. However, we have not been as successful at implementing this practice in academics. We have not been taught how to properly access, interpret, and use data to guide our instruction.
We, the teachers, see district data in visually appealing charts at board meetings and once or twice a year site data is discussed during professional learning, but we do not examine it to determine how it can help us to improve teaching. Additionally, schoolwide data is not easily accessible to teachers. We have the option to use the student information system PROMIS, which stores student information such as Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) scores, but this data is tied to individual student records. Accessing it is not much different than opening manilla “cum. folders” in the school office. Before we are able to begin using schoolwide data to drive improvement, teachers need to be able to access the data.
The teachers at my site and I have demonstrated our ability to use data to support our students’ behavior, but we are currently not using data to guide continuous improvement. As Ward et al. (2013) stated, “Starting with the assumption that opportunities for improvement always exist, we must purposefully seek out errors, understand their causes and effects, and then fix them for continuous improvement to occur.” However, we cannot begin improvement without first identifying and analyzing our weaknesses. Data is needed to accomplish this.
As a classroom teacher, I recognize that my efforts in using data to improve learning can currently be improved upon in my own practice. In the upcoming academic year, I plan to implement the use of embedded formative and summative assessments and standards-based grading in order to generate data to that will help to guide my teaching to support student learning. (I am also excited to be doing this through problem-based learning.) I hope that I will be able to eventually share my experiences with my colleagues at my site and utilize the abilities I will develop by using data to guide my teaching to contribute to future schoolwide conversations about data and learning.
Edmondson, J. (2010, November 29). TEDxCincy - Jeff Edmondson - The Key to Educational Improvement: Data and How We Use It. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
Ward, C., Fisher, D., Nancy, F., & Lapp, D. (2013). Using data to focus instructional improvement. ASCD.