Ongoing Professional Learning with Data

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

I frequently lead professional learning on how to use data effectively, most recently with Youth On Their Own, a Tucson-based nonprofit that supports youth without a permanent place to live in graduating high school. Over the years, I’ve collected a few topics that tend to be effective for whole-staff trainings, and others that have transformed teams of teachers and individual educators in 1:1 coaching sessions. I also have worked with some amazing administrators to support their use of data as well. If your school is thinking about explicit training in using data, the topics below will be helpful.

Whole Staff

Screening data vs. diagnostic data

Screening data is meant to identify a problem. Diagnostic data identifies solutions. Frequently, I notice schools and nonprofits using screening data to identify problems and solutions. This leads to bad strategy.

For example, a common screening tool in elementary schools measures number of words read correctly per minute. While good reading fluency is a strong indicator of reading skill, low reading fluency has a variety of causes. Without also using a diagnostic tool effectively, millions of elementary school children in the United States are wasting time with repeated readings of familiar texts to increase their reading speed when their actual struggle with reading is far more complex. Screening data identifies students needing support, but diagnostic tools are needed to uncover causes. Moving from screening data to diagnostic data is essential training for any educator working directly with students.

Interpreting standardized test results

Pamela Dean is a colleague of mine and a teacher-leader at Lawrence 3-8 in Tucson Unified School District. She recalls how “I once worked at a school where I was quite vehemently berated because only 33% of my students scored proficient on the state assessments. Until, that is, they finished yelling at me and then I said to them, “Well, you could look at it as only 33% of my students scored proficient. But since only 11% of my students scored proficient last year, it actually means that there was a 200% increase in the number of students who were proficient. I guess it’s all in how you want to look at it. I prefer to look at it this way. “

The first key takeaway from Pamela’s experience is that weaponizing data against teachers is disrespectful. Schools will never use data effectively if data is a tool for criticism. The second key takeaway is that most people—including school leaders—struggle to interpret standardized test results accurately. Generally, this lack of fluency in what standardized test scores report leads most educators to focus on failure and to ignore growth. Given that schools are meant to help students learn and grow, a thorough understanding of what standardized test results mean—and what they don’t—is vital.

Grade-level / Content teams and Individuals

I have grown suspicious of asking teachers to spend time in grade level teams reviewing data. These meetings tend to involve more compliance than commitment, and require schools to build elaborate systems and schedules to function. In fact, I recommend that schools spend most of their time with classroom-level data, rather than in teams. 

However, using data in grade-level or content teams can be powerful if teams view data as a tool to help them achieve their goals. Professional learning for grade-level / content teams or individual educators might include the following: 

Using data frames to develop process targets

Protocols for working with data are available throughout the internet, but what I like about the data frames below is that they are simple and work at both ends of data collection. The Post-Data Frames have three prompts when teams want to engage data that has already been collected:

  • What do I see?
  • What does this mean to me?
  • What might I do?

Beginning with a disciplined, literal view, “What do I see?” grounds teams in exactly what the data says. Next, “What does this mean to me?” invites teams to interpret the data’s significance within the constraints of what the team actually sees. Finally, “What might I do?” prompts teams to assess what the y might stop, start, do more of, or do less based on what they have come to understand through their data.

When teams have targets they want to reach and the data hasn’t been collected yet.,the Pre-Data-Frames are the best tool. The Pre Data Frames also have three prompts to support teams in aligning strategies to goals.

  • What is the outcome?
  • What is my role in achieving the outcome?
  • What’s my process target?

“What is my outcome?” is also meant to be a literal question. Teams write down a measurable outcome exactly as is. “What is my role in achieving the outcome?” asks team members to write down exactly what each team member is going to do to support the common goal. Finally, “What’s my process target?” asks team members to think about one small task, behavior, or strategy that they can implement every day. The process target is starred because it’s really the only part of the Pre-Data Frames that anyone needs to think about on a daily basis. So long as the process target lines up with the outcome, the team’s job is to forget about their long term goal in order to focus on the ‘do it every day’ process target that will bring about growth over time.

And, more and more organizations are coming to view individual data conferences as more valuable than PLCs. This same process functions powerfully at the individual classroom level.

For School Leaders

Every school leader should be fluent in each of the above topics. And, I’ve earned a doctorate in education without learning most of them. Most school leaders have to learn about using data effectively on their own, or from other school leaders that have read a few more books on data. Sometimes, it is helpful to seek out professional learning individually, and knowing yourself as a learner helps.

Personally, I read both print and audiobooks, and I have time built into my schedule to read and practice. And, if you want to get started with data, Darell Huff’s “How to Lie With Statistics” is a great place to start. Another great text is “How to Make Decisions with Different Kinds of Student Assessment Data, by Susan Brookhart.

However, if you think having a coach or a trainer might help, this is the kind of work I love to do, and I have many other professional contacts to whom I’m happy to refer you. Click here to schedule a time to talk, or click here to send me an email.

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