In our current professional development climate, much is said about long-term, job-embedded training that truly changes a school’s culture and endures. It’s a simple idea, often talked about…not often achieved. Twenty-eight schools in Florida have seen the work it takes and made the commitment.

By Mary Anne Mather, Managing Editor
TERC’s Using Data for Meaningful Change Blog

teachers sitting around table discussing professional insights about data

Teachers meet across schools to share data use insights.

A team of Using Data Facilitators recently completed the training and technical assistance segment of a three-year professional development initiative in Duval County, Jacksonville, Florida. As part of an IES-funded, randomized control study looking at fourth and fifth grade mathematics achievement, 30 elementary schools set out on a journey to learn what it means to be truly data informed. Twenty-eight completed the long-term, job-embedded training that focused on enacting a process for understanding and analyzing data linked directly to student outcomes and classroom practice. The ultimate goal—to build a culture of collaborative data use that informs an ongoing pathway to improvement in any subject area.*

After two and a half years of work, these 28 schools came together on May 16, 2013 at the Schultz Professional Development Center in Jacksonville to showcase their results.

chart showing big ideas discussed at the final conference

Big ideas that participants shared centered on student use of data, collaborative inquiry, and taking time for content-specific data analysis and drill down to strand and item data..

Many told stories about improved student scores, students engaged with their own data and learning needs, increased teacher collaboration time, and shared responsibility across grades for student outcomes. Some uncovered sensitive problems that they are still in the process of grappling with. And as a result of their journey together, they are comfortable sharing the challenges, as well as the successes, and seeking solutions from research and from one another.

Because the Using Data work is a process, some schools were further along than others, but all had something to share and something to learn. And all recognized that even though the training is over, the work is ongoing, iterative, and IMPORTANT.

Some expressed hopes that the Using Data training might be offered to other Duval schools because they recognize their own leg-up with meeting new district expectations tied to achievement goals. They also recognize that having learned the process and putting a Data Team in place is one thing, but continuing the collaborative inquiry and integrating the process into day-to-day classroom planning is the ultimate desired outcome. It’s not over just because the training is over.

Likewise, although the treatment portion of the study is complete, the Using Data team feels a desire to continue the conversation and stay connected with a cohort of schools that have demonstrated great insight and promise. With that in mind, the Using Data Project Director shared some parting thoughts in hopes of bolstering continued growth and professional interaction.

In truth, these parting thoughts are offered to all schools that have committed to long-term, job-embedded professional development and have done the hard-work required to uphold that commitment. Substitute your own context, tools, and processes for the specifics in the letter below and keep the work alive!  (We also invite you to take advantage of the resources mentioned in the letter.)


Dear Principals, Data Coaches and Data Teams,

Saying that your work last week was impressive doesn’t begin to capture the energy, the information, and the knowledge at work in the Schultz Center on May 16. Your Using Data Facilitators applaud the accomplishments you have all made during the past two and a half years of work. Regardless of where you are on implementing continuous inquiry into student learning, you all have the tools and processes that will continue to open doors to student learning. Based on the level of questioning and the exchanges of information and practical advice shared during the School Data Exhibits, many of you now have new ideas to help you deepen your work with data.

As a parting message, let me encourage all of you to continue creating the structures (teams and time to meet) that are the first layer of implementation needed to support collaborative inquiry. And as your teams continue to exam student results (FCAT, Interim Assessments, student work samples), keep in mind that we must be prepared to push beyond the experience and knowledge that we have, whether individually or collectively across teams, to continually seek new knowledge from research about what works, from content specialists (your mathematics and literacy coaches), and from best practice evidence.

To impact change, we must be prepared to push beyond our comfort zones as we use data to illuminate learning challenges. We need to commit to continually learn more about our craft. Don’t settle for “good” or good enough—keep reaching for “great”— even if that requires abandoning a long-held practice or belief.  Be willing to rock the boat! Use your Short Cycle Action Plans to try new practices. And take the time to collaboratively analyze the results to know what’s working!

Our formal time together is over, but we are still your team! Don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance in the coming weeks, months, and years. We have invested with you in your progress over the past two years, and we are invested in your continued success. We encourage you to sign up for the Using Data for Meaningful Change blog. Some of your own Duval stories are being shared, along with other thoughtful reflections about teaching and learning.

We leave you with these resources for new data tips and pointers to best practice that can continue to inform your good work.

Subscribe to our Using Data blog:

Warmest regards,
Diana Nunnaley, Director
Using Data Projects


*The Using Data process emphasizes a structured process to consult multiple data sources (looking beyond just test data), the development of school-based data coaches and data teams, and taking time for collaborative inquiry leading to the identification of specific areas where students are not achieving. Once problems are uncovered, rather than jumping right to possible solutions, Data Teams engage in a causal analysis process. They delve into “What is causing our problem?” “How do we know?” They explore potential causes and consult additional evidence to verify their existence. Verified causes can range from scheduling and curriculum alignment issues to very specific student misconceptions to teachers needing content-focused professional development. Only then are solutions enacted and action plans developed. Ongoing data consultation drives close progress monitoring to highlight results tied back to action plans.