When people think about Data Driven Decision-Making, the focus almost always shifts to the data; the assumption being that if we get the right data, we’ll be able to make better decisions. Huge investments are made in systems to collect, integrate, store, and report data.  Here at TERC we realized from the very beginning that just putting the numbers in front of people wasn’t enough. We’re all very adept at assuming that everyone sees the same thing in the data, but not as quick to understand that data themselves have no meaning, and that they are susceptible to  a whole realm of possible ideas and interpretations. Through trial and error while borrowing research about decision-making and group process dynamics, we began to discover combinations of activities and protocols to create a common language around the data, and to guide teams to analyze and discuss what they see in the data. These protocols have become the Using Data Process (UDP), and though our work implementing the process in schools, and districts, we’ve discovered just how effective teams of teachers can be in analyzing their data.

The National Science Foundation funded TERC to develop a facilitator’s guide to using data. The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for All Students, published by Corwin Press, forms the basis of the work we do in schools and districts across the country. And why you might say would a district bring TERC’s Using Data group in to deliver professional development and technical assistance when you can just buy the book? The answer is simple.  In the hands of an experienced professional developer with a background in school improvement, change processes, and data analysis, your teams will be able to pick up the book and fly. For most building administrators, curriculum leaders, teacher leaders, it’s a whole new ballgame to attempt to establish data teams, or begin data analysis on one’s own.  We bring a lot of experience into the room and can help really good things happen.

You can often predict how successful a school district is going to be in helping teachers begin to use their data in ways that translate into changes in classroom instruction. If the superintendent and his curriculum and school improvement team are fully engaged in the initial planning meetings and fully committed to understanding their role in supporting teachers’ (data teams) analysis of the data, it is a good sign. When building principals are enthusiastic about identifying teacher leaders to facilitate the data team’s work, and entrepreneurial in thinking about the use of time in the building toward data teams ability to meet on a regular basis, it is a good sign. When data systems are flexible in their reporting features, enabling teachers to access the data they need in a timely manner, it is a VERY good sign. And when states release item results, you have the best case scenario for a fundamental shift in the culture of the district with regard to the use of data and the renewed commitment to the statement “all kids can learn”.  The case study of our work with the Dennis-Yarmouth school district in Massachusetts is a great example of what successful use of data looks like.