Practical Tips for Administrators

Guest Blogger: Jennifer UngerThe Word Leadership Highlighted in Dictionary with Yellow Marker Highlighter Pen.

In Part I*, I offered an insight to educational administrators about the merits of leaning on your busy people—those already involved in other school and district improvement efforts—as your data leaders. In Part 2, I share a few thoughts about the level of support a wise leader provides to ensure that these people are successful.

It’s spring, and a good time to take stock of how using data has informed practice and affected student achievement at your site since the school year began.

Earlier in the year, did you make the decision to integrate broadly-implemented data tools and processes into the assessment/evaluation plan for your school or district? If you have not yet formalized a using-data effort, should you?

As mentioned in Part 1, the first step is identifying the Data Coach and data team members. Some schools refer to these people as their improvement team or teams. Once in place, reflect on the level of support and direction you need to provide. Here are some possible questions and ideas to consider:


 Guest Blogger: Jennifer Ungercalendar with many red tacks on one day

There’s a familiar saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” If comments I hear when working with educational leaders can be taken as evidence, then it’s true.

In order to use data for meaningful change, TERC’s Using Data project advocates the identification of a Data Coach to lead a Data Team or multiple Data Teams. When we talk with school leaders about who might best serve as a Data Coach or team member, I hear comments such as, “I really think Dana would be a great data leader (or team member), but she/he is already involved in so many initiatives.”

In my experience, wise leadership makes all the difference. Let’s explore this dilemma more deeply…


Collaborative inquiry posters showing causal analysis based on San Mateo Elementary School data

Collaborative inquiry posters showing causal analysis based on San Mateo Elementary School data

The Data-Aware Principal: Reflection #1
Guest Blogger: Lindsay P. Sharp, Principal, San Mateo Elementary School, Duval County Public Schools, Jacksonville, FL

As a principal, it’s clear to me that I need to be data informed. My job depends on it—literally, since I am evaluated by my school’s achievement. More importantly, though, my heart depends on it—I am committed to seeing data not as just numbers, but connected to the success of the students and teachers in my school.

As the school’s leader, my thoughts turn to the best way to translate my own state of “data informed-ness” into meaningful action, and I have come to understand the key lies in putting my efforts into creating data leaders beyond the principal’s office. My Using Data colleagues are now in every classroom in my school! Accomplishing this level of a “using data school culture” depends on a process that involves professional development, support, and dedication over time. We work at it every day. (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

If you want to tap one of the most powerful uses of data, disaggregate! Disaggregation means looking at how specific subgroups perform. Typically, formal student achievement data come “aggregated,” reported for the population as a whole—the whole state, school, grade level, or class. Disaggregating can bring to light critical problems and issues that might otherwise remain invisible.

For example, one district’s state test data indicated that eighth-grade math scores steadily improved over three years. When the data team disaggregated those data, they discovered that boys’ scores improved, while girls’ scores actually declined.different colored stick figures sorted into color-coordinated groups Another school noticed increased enrollment in their after-school science club. However, disaggregated data indicated that minority students, even those in more advanced classes, weren’t signing up. These are just some of the questions that disaggregated data can help answer:

• Is there an achievement gap among different demographic groups? Is it getting bigger or smaller?

• Are minority or female students enrolling in higher-level mathematics and science courses at the same rate as other students?

• Are poor or minority students over-represented in special education or under-represented in gifted and talented programs? (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

All too often state test results may be the only source consulted when targeting specific areas for improvement. However, decisions about instructional changes that reflect only this single data source, might lead to errors in your decision-making.

If you want your data to lead you toward making meaningful changes, an important principle to follow, is triangulation. wire rim glasses with three lensesTriangulation means using three independent data sources to examine apparent issues or problems. You might ask, “Why bother with the extra work of triangulating?” Consider this analogy:

A third-grade teacher asks Mary to look through the front panel of the classroom terrarium and list everything she sees. Mary diligently makes a thorough list and begins to return to her seat when the teacher asks her to take a second look through the side panel of the terrarium. She immediately sees several plants and animals obscured in the front panel view by rocks and shrubs. By using this second “window,” Mary now has a more complete picture. Then the teacher asks Mary to peer through the top of the terrarium to see if there is anything else. Mary is able to add to her list before she sits down. Her three-window analysis reveals a far more comprehensive picture than any one window alone.*

The notion of using multiple windows or perspectives also applies to understanding and applying information from student achievement data. Consider these Action Steps: (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

As powerful as an inquiry process might be, it is only good if practiced regularly.

Recently, we met with teams of teachers in Florida who are learning the TERC Using Data process of school-based collaborative inquiry. Between our two scheduled face-to-face sessions, these data teams returned to their schools to apply the process they had learned and dig deeper into their own data analysis with colleagues. One returned with an epiphany. “I thought we were learning a quick way to ‘fix’ things. I now realize that there is no quick way to do this. You just have to take the time to engage in the process, understand what to do to get results, and do it!”Clock face overlaid on a calendar

Meaningful data analysis, pinpointing student learning problems by triangulating multiple data sources, deconstructing student work samples, finding root causes for emerging problems, and launching a plan to tackle these problems takes time.

Anyone who has ever integrated inquiry into classroom instruction knows how time-consuming it is…and how valuable. The same holds true for a data analysis process based on collaborative inquiry. (more…)

GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einsteinmagnifying glass trained on the word why in red text

Once a school or grade-level data team has analyzed several data sources to pinpoint a student learning problem, they often feel ready to leap into action and solve it. To ensure that the solution pursued produces the hope-for results, it’s essential to engage in a collaborative process of causal analysis to identify the “root” cause of the problem.

There are many tools that support root cause analysis, one of them is referred to as Why-Why-Why—a question-asking technique used to explore cause and effect relationships. Why-Why-Why helps a group look beyond symptoms to underlying causes by taking the identified problem and asking why it exists at least three times—each time probing more deeply. (more…)

Next Page »