From time to time, I’ll to refer to papers and studies highlighting the implications of educators’ interrogating their data. A great resource that underscores the complexities faced by schools in making good use of their data is “Achieving a Wealth of Riches: Delivering on the Promise of Data to Transform Teaching and Learning“, a policy brief developed by the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C.

This piece contains a concise description of what the successful use of data can achieve. It shows what’s possible when teams of teachers have acquired the skills, the resources, and the supports that enable them to examine their data each week to answer the question: “what are the implications of what we’ve learned for our instruction this week?”  This briefing documents the work of the schools where achievement gaps have been eliminated and where teachers are in love with teaching again. It also highlights the reasons not all schools have been successful in using their data.  Lessons for all!  You’ll find the Brief at this link: http://all4ed.org/files/AchievingWealthOfRiches.pdf

ChartsUsing benchmark assessments formatively may seem like a contradiction. However, we have seen many school data teams discover the need for a common assessment to help them monitor the impact of changes they are making and to suggest areas needing adjustment. In some of these same districts, there has already been the investment in a benchmarking assessment in some of the content areas. Prior to Using Data, teachers viewed the results without enthusiasm or eagerness to see what was working. Once teams identified a specific student learning problem, identified root causes and implemented actions to address them, they were able to look forward to benchmark assessments as way to monitor progress and identify areas to modify in their instruction or additional resources for students.

Mathematics teachers at three high schools meeting during a full-day release day to examine student results on the quarterly benchmark assessment made predictions about areas assessed where they anticipated the students would do very well and those that might be problematic.  One area of surprise came when their prediction didn’t match the reality with regard to students’ ability to plug in a variable to an equation to see if it worked – the variables being the available multiple choice responses. In fact, due to the poorer than expected performance of their classes on these items, teachers immediately went to their curriculum to see where this had been taught, how much time had been spent working on this skill. In fact, it wasn’t a taught skill at all.  It was assumed that students would “intuitively” understand how to test a variable to complete an equation.

Without a common benchmark assessment before them and the opportunity as a group of teachers to examine the results, individual teachers might have reached entirely different conclusions based on their knowledge of their own students.  However, seeing a clear pattern across several high schools and many 9th grade algebra classes, enabled them to go a little deeper to discover something they could change.