It really is all in the details! This article about the successful use of data (“Peabody Teachers Studying Ways to Better Test Scores,” Salem News, December 24, 2010) by staff in the Peabody Public Schools, a district in Massachusetts, reminds me that when we get it right, the results can be extraordinary and culture changing. The article likens the Peabody teachers to “a team of scientists racing to find a cure.”

With all of the hype about schools becoming data-driven, few details accompany the “business speak” to offer examples of what it means to be data-driven, much less provide a road map for getting there. And just to clarify, we at Using Data prefer it to be a road map to becoming data informed, not data-driven—an important detail that makes room for educator expertise in identifying and applying solutions.

Teachers in three Peabody schools provide solid clues about what data-informed practice looks like in the ongoing work of their schools (and the results that are possible).

The Peabody teachers meet regularly and frequently to analyze their data; they use multiple types of data, and their data is visible on the walls in their schools. The three schools, each with a large population of low-income students, didn’t just happen upon a strategy for analyzing the data—their district invested in focused staff development for data teams and data leaders. Based on their success, now there are plans to use Race to the Top funds to provide professional development for teachers in more schools in district.

In Fargo, ND a similar experience is emerging in several schools. One school in particular has dedicated an unused classroom to displaying their data, monitoring the progress of each individual student toward mastery of learning standards. Recently the district administrators held their regular meeting in the “data room.” All were struck by the dramatic impact of seeing every student’s learning path. It instilled an expressed urgency toward implementing and monitoring changes, and highlighted what the district’s role must be to support teachers as they support the personal growth of every child in the building.

In Fargo, as in Peabody, the culture of data use didn’t just happen because teachers had access to data. There has been a district plan to provide school data teams with focused professional development and dedicated time to use the processes they learned to make sense of the data ongoing.

If you’re interested in a nine-point jump in math scores for low-income students or a 14.3 point increase in language arts scores for Limited English Language (ELL) students or attaining “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), the article begins to map your course.

And you might also be interested in more stories about how schools are using data to map success.