In past blogs we’ve mentioned several reports highlighting what are considered “best practice” around the use of data. Keep in mind that an enterprise like a school district has many areas of work where data can inform important decisions. We’ll keep our focus on the use of data to improve student achievement at all levels, and we’ll tackle the topic of “best practice” in small pieces.

Over the past several weeks, we have been engaged with a number of school districts across the country as part of their planning efforts. When we asked schools to describe their current use of data, we heard about a wide range of practices, many of which are promising, to be sure.

But there has been a noticeable void in the conversations when it comes to describing how teacher teams or professional learning communities have been responding to what they have learned through their analysis of data. Few if any of them have gone the next step of engaging in a period of causal analysis – further analysis of their data to verify root causes of the learning problems they have identified. Instead, we hear about solutions being spontaneously generated. Many times, these solutions take the form of recommendations for after-school remediation or Saturday Academy seat time for students.

Don’t get me wrong; if we have the right kind of after-school experiences or Saturday Academy designs, getting the extra learning time for some students can be a critical aspect of an action plan. However, if we’re not investing time to research the problem and see what the implications are for our own classroom instruction, we may be missing the optimal solution that is within our own hands and under our own guidance. This cycle of improvement is the real work of professional learning communities and the entire learning organization at the school and district level. In upcoming blogs, we’ll describe how this research cycle works for a data team.

Several links to resources to enable your team’s research:

Best Evidence Encyclopedia (Johns Hopkins University):
http://www.bestevidence.org/index.cfm

Learning Carousel (Equity Alliance):
http://ea.niusileadscape.org/lc/

The Knowledge Loom (Educational Alliance at Brown University)
http://knowledgeloom.org/index.jsp

The Regional Educational Labs Reference Desk (REL for Northeast and the Islands) but also available at your own regional lab.
http://relnei.org/referencedesk.2010-04-23.php