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

By Diana Nunnaley, Director, TERC’s Using Data

March Madness annually takes over the country, or at least the media and the minds of U.S. college basketball fans who give itFather and son playing basketball their frenzied attention each spring. At the same time, another March Madness is going on that does not garner the same enthusiasm and  does not make national news in quite the same way. It’s the March Madness going on in schools across the country as teachers and administrators ready for spring, state-initiated student accountability assessments. These tests are considered by some to definitively provide feedback on how much students have learned this year, and correspondingly – how effective their teachers are. (That second-tier “madness” could fill volumes, and I chose to let the pundits continue to hash out that one.) (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

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

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…)

By Diana Nunnaley, Director, TERC’s Using Data

Depending on where you sit, and which frame of reference shapes your work, you either celebrate charter school efforts or think charters reflect a “right” wing or “left” wing  (take your pick) conspiracy to undermine the role of public education in the United States.

A blog post is too short a space to weigh into the considerable arguments both pro and con that can be made regarding the place for charter schools in America. To my thinking, charters are a natural consequence of Americans seeking a solution to a social problem. We may not agree on the substance of the problem or the direction of the solution, but in a society that values and applauds entrepreneurial efforts, charters are here to stay. That is, they have a place until we learn more about the experience (hopefully by examining the data) or, have a collective epiphany about the impact of poverty on kids’ success in learning and activate the collective will to change the way we fund and support local education.dictionary page with definition of the word data somewhat out of focus

Charter School Vision Equally Blurred

Based on my experience working in schools across the country, the reality is that teachers in charter schools bring the same passion and desire to help children learn as teachers in any other public or private setting. They face the same staggering challenges and then some. And they bring the same blind spots to the table when examining their student learning data. (more…)