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…


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

2013-12_LFGroup2The 2013 annual Learning Forward Conference in Dallas, Texas faced quite a challenge this past December as a major ice storm glazed the area in a slick crust of sheer slippage. Flights were canceled, and Texas-based drivers found themselves snarled on impassable roads. Using Data, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was scheduled to present a full-capacity, all-day session on Monday, December 9 entitled Effective, Continuous Data Use Requires Prepared Leadership. Would we make it? Would our participants? (more…)

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

Any parent or teacher can identify with the “why” inquisition. For a parent, it’s those moments when your child questions an observed phenomenon like “Why is the sky blue?” You give an explanation, and then the child asks why again…and again. For a teacher, it’s the proverbial student the word why and many question marks on wooden type-face blocksquestion, “Why do I need to know THIS?” You explain, and then you hear, “But why is that important to ME?” At times, the whole experience, for certain, can test one’s level of knowledge, not to mention your patience. And yet, we all understand that learning is about inquiry and discovery. Asking “why” should be something to rejoice in! And asking “why” should remain a lifelong learning tool. It doesn’t stop after childhood.

I recently came across a list at the Teach Thought website that caused me to reflect again on a very essential phase of the Using Data process—Causal Analysis. Informally, we call it why-why-why. The list posted at Teach Thought, 10 Silent Disruptors Of Student Academic Performance aligned pretty closely to some of the causes that we help teachers to explore during causal analysis in order to justify phenomenon existing in their schools that can be altered, and by doing so, leads to increased student achievement. In fact, we offer a set of cause cards that scaffold the reflection process.

In order to use data well, the why-why-why phase of data analysis through collaborative inquiry is as essential as the air we breathe if, as educators, we are going to get beyond the surface of things and accurately pursue meaningful differences that will impact student achievement. We can have mountains of data, and we can even take a step further and analyze those mountains. But until we connect the dots among multiple data sources, discover specific student learning challenges, and then take the time to ask “why-why-why” in order to verify the root causes of these challenges, selecting solutions is premature.

For sure, the data consulted must reach beyond numbers and test scores because the causes can reside in scheduling, misalignment of curriculum and assessments, mismatched vocabulary between what is taught and what is tested, lack of rigor or teacher content knowledge, low expectations for selected student groups, and more. The causes might be any or all of the 10 disrupters on the Teach Thought graphic. The good news is that verified causes can be addressed, and the results can be astounding!

For a step-by-step description of one why-why-why activity, check out Using Data’s Tip #6, When Analyzing Causes, Ask “Why? Why? Why?”.

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. (more…)

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

LogicModelDuvalTERC’s Using Data facilitators have been working for the past two years with 30 elementary schools in Duval County Florida. This is possible through funding from a U.S Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grant to study the efficacy of the Using Data for Meaningful Change processes.

As our time together winds down, the Duval schools are sharing stories about transformation in practice, focus, and student achievement. (more…)

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…)

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

graphic of two question marks, text reads "generate interpretations for results observed"

Source: Rowland School District, CA

We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.
John Dewey

States, districts, education reform pundits…they force our reaction to standardized test scores. But there is more to data than those somewhat controversial numbers currently being used in many places as the primary data point to inform changing policy and practice, and even to rate teachers. Unfortunately we don’t hear many talking about “reflection data.” Let’s take the time to collect data via reflective practice…and teach it to students. Then we’ll all be on sounder ground for tempering test scores with meaningful data that can potentially drive sustained changed.

In his blog entry, Mark Clements focuses on teaching reflection to students, but it’s a lesson to take to heart as professionals, too.

The Importance of Reflection in Education

Mary Anne Mather is also a Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook