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…)

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

I very much enjoyed Part I of Jill Thompson’s blog series about “Using Data to Drive Instruction in the Classroom.” According to her bio, Jill is an elementary math and science facilitator.

I applaud her for sharing her insights and passions about this subject. As a former classroom teacher, and currently as a facilitator for TERC’s Using Data process, I find myself in step with her thinking. Regularly integrating formal and informal assessments into the instructional planning process is a must. It’s not adding more to the plate — it IS the plate…understanding the impact of the teaching process on student learning and using that information to plan the necessary next steps—not only what to teach, but how to engage kids in the learning.

These days there is so much negative emphasis on testing, and I understand the rub when I see test scores being used to punish teachers and categorize kids. But let’s be clear that using data and testing are not the same thing. Data comes in many shapes and forms, well beyond test results and grades (these are just one data point). Teachers have the opportunity to use data as a valuable resource to guide a teaching and learning approach that can ignite learning for all students. As Jill notes–it just takes time and know-how (and an understanding that it’s a non-negotiable).

I plan to follow Jill’s blog series on this topic, and I recommend it to you. Thank you, Jill, for sharing your experiences and helping those who might be uncertain about how to put their data to work as an instructional tool. Your ideas illuminate understanding of a process for using data that can profoundly impact student engagement and achievement.

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…)

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

“Make data observations. Then generate possible explanations that inform next-steps to finding the best teaching and learning solutions.”
(from: Love, Nancy et al. The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for All Students, 2008.)

drawing of a figure with a question mark and thought bubbleData analysis is more effective, and more on-target for getting student achievement results, if a team of stakeholders first observe and list as many details as possible about what the data reveal, followed by making inferences about these observations, and then asking “why is this happening?” “what else do we need to know to be sure?”.

Infer/Question is the fourth stage in a team-based, 4-phase dialogue process* that guides deep discussion toward deriving accurate meaning from performance data. (See more information about Step 1: Predict, Step 2: Go Visual, and Step 3: Make Observations.)

These action steps will help you and your data team share inferences about the story the data reveal—inferences that will inform important next-steps toward identifying a valid student learning problem and its true causes. (more…)

Guest Blogger: Dr. William L. Heller, Using Data Program Director, Teaching Matters*

Summer has arrived, and the last of our current data institutes, like the school year itself, has come to an end. But as the participating data teams leave, Road Sign indicating "The Beginning" with dramatic blue sky and clouds.carrying not a diploma but an action plan, they realize that their work is only just beginning. It is not a graduation; it is a commencement. And the first step in the journey ahead is to introduce the action plan they developed to the principal, administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders in their school communities. This requires another planning document—a strategic communications plan, inviting others to invest in a shared vision for bringing the action plan to reality.

So…what are the elements of a good communications plan that will get others behind the action plan? (more…)

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

Since the story broke, the media and bloggers have actively covered the details about a recent test-score-fixing fiasco—and the news continues (links provided below). There have been commentaries about who really suffers from a scam of this magnitude (students robbed of remedial opportunities) and who is to blame—their motivations…and their motivators (“…targets were implemented…in such a way that teachers and administrators believed that they had to choose between cheating to meet targets or failing to meet targets and losing their jobs.” Volume 3: Conclusions: Why cheating occurred and cover-up allegations, p. 4). Eraser end of pencil laying on test paper showing bubble answersI’m particularly taken withthe data-made-me do-itexplanation. There’s even talk of legal prosecution. This whole mess feels like a major attraction in a very tawdry sideshow of the school reform circus. And sadly, although the media is focused on one district at the moment, test score and data manipulation is not new news.

Yes, there’s explaining to do, and some one (or many) will need to be held accountable, but wouldn’t it be great if the lion’s share of the energy fueling our collective indignation, disbelief, and need for retribution could be channeled to establishing more positive, long-term improvements to a testing and assessment system that has surely gone awry. I’m not yet so tainted that I can’t believe we (saints and cheaters alike) all really want the same thing: exemplary schools, highly qualified teachers, and well-educated students who are life-long learners ready to succeed in their adult lives.

I weigh in with Diane Ravitch on this one, (more…)