In many school systems, teachers are not able to see the data collected from a wide variety of assessments and efforts. Instead administrators analyze the data and give the teachers' their interpretation. I think this is a big problem.
Fortunately in the system where I work, most data is shared with teachers. Of course, I think all data should be shared with educators, but I'll settle for most right now. When the data is shared with the teachers, they can truly look deeply at who they are teaching and what is happening with those students.
Many fear big data, and others resent standardized tests. I am still a proponent of a balanced, streamlined approach to informal/formal and local/state/national/global assessments and data. I believe that some big data and standardized tests are good, but I don't think we should be spending lots and lots of money on this. Instead I think we need to keep the measures simple, targeted, less costly, and meaningful so that we have the money and time to teach and assess in ways that are meaningful, child-friendly, and successful within the contexts that we teach. I also believe that we have to be careful about the way we analyze and use data. Too often, data analysis is skewed to please a group rather than to tell the truth.
That being said, I think that the data collection and analysis we do can help us to answer the following questions, questions which I believe are meaningful and helpful to our practice.
Where did your students hit the mark, and where is there room for improvement?
As I looked at a number of data sources this year, I recognized that there was one area, in particular, with regard to math that my students can do better with. I was actually surprised that my students didn't do as well in this area, and I will dig deeper and teach differently this year to make change in this regard. There were other areas where the teaching was very successful, so I'll build on that in those areas.
Did the data result in any surprises or trends?
Teachers know their students well. They know who is doing well and who is struggling so to look for surprises and trends is to take what you know and then compare it with the test results. I noticed once again that students with whom you have a good relationship with always perform better. Relationships matter. I also noticed that consistent programming and time-on-task with targeted, culturally proficient efforts with skilled educators and assistants made a significant difference with regard to doing well. When services may have been delivered in less targeted and more choppy ways, the results were not as good. Further I noticed trends related to opportunities too, and wondered how we might bridge the opportunity gap to help some students achieve better and more.
Which students made significant growth?
In Massachusetts growth data each year is based on comparing students to other like-age, like-ability students to see how they performed. As I think of growth data over the years, it's always been interesting to see which students seem to earn greater growth.
Teachers that Look and Live Like Their Students
As research suggests, in general over the years, it has been students who are girls of similar socio-economic upbringing to me in my class that have earned the greatest growth scores. This affirms the research that notes that students do better if their teachers look and live like them, and provides a good rationale for diversifying our teaching staffs at schools.
I've also noticed over the years, as stated above, that the students whom I share the best relationships with, always demonstrate greater growth. This affirms the research that says that teacher-student-family relationships matter when it comes to effective teaching and learning. This is one reason I like our shared-teaching model at fifth grade as there are many of us with whom students can connect, and a year's growth is not dependent on the relationship with one teacher, but many. This is positive.
Blended Learning and Intelligent Assistants
I also found that blended learning approaches led to greater growth over the years. Students who may struggle with reading, but have access to multi-modal programs online like Khan Academy and Symphony Math demonstrated substantial growth. Both Khan Academy and Symphony Math move beyond text-only math teaching and use multiple models, audio, and other paths to effective learning. Further, I found that when teachers and teaching assistants worked with online intelligent assistants like Khan Academy or Symphony Math in addition to hand held manipulatives, projects, and paper/pencil, they were able to more effectively support student learning.
Other Factors that Seemed to Make a Difference
As I assessed multiple data points, I noticed a few other factors that seemed to make a positive difference.
Time on task with targeted, skilled teaching and learning experiences matter. In the past few years, our team has analyzed scheduling and made recommendations to improve the teaching/learning schedule. Our recommendations were honored, and overall, we have a terrific schedule with plenty of time-on-task for good teaching. I believe this had led to stronger scores. In areas where the scheduling consistency was weaker, there has been less growth.
Targeted Teaching and Learning
Generally in areas where educators were reflecting and researching on their own and with colleagues about the success and use of potential programs, I noticed greater growth. In areas where there appeared to be less reflection, research, and utilization of targeted planning and approaches, there seemed to be less growth and success. It's integral that every educator is making the time to assess, reflect, plan, implement, and assess targeted teaching/learning approaches to meet the needs of the students in front of them.
This too is a factor that research affirms. We have to stop the practice of putting our most at-risk students with the least qualified teachers or teaching assistants. We have to be mindful of hiring practices so that students are being taught by highly qualified, dedicated, and capable professionals. This kind of good hiring matters with regard to teaching well, and this kind of effort requires substantial lead time. To partner with local universities may be one good way to find the quality supports you need for your school. Also to gain a diversity of candidates, schools may want to introduce hiring processes that come along with training programs. This is something that school systems could create in conjunction with state and national departments of education.
I was introduced to multiple new approaches of working with families from a west coast teacher who I met through the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) and then again through the ECET2 movement. She was really reaching out to families with trainings and much more connectivity than is common in schools today. She knew that many of her struggling students had loving family members, but family members distanced from academic support for many reasons. In her school they were making a concerted effort to develop family-school relationships in ways that really matter, deep ways that not only support students socially, but also support students' academic success. It takes more time, money, and effort to support families distanced from at-home academic support, and often schools are resistant to really looking deeply at this issue and working with the greater community to support betterment in this area.
I cull a lot of really good information from data, information that leads my practice forward in ways that matter. I am fortunate that I get to see most of the data so that I can think deeply and creatively about the data to revise and uplift programs in ways that matter on my own and with my colleagues. Sadly some of my friends who teach never get to see the data in holistic, meaningful ways. Instead they are given a small slice of the data with an interpretation made by someone distanced from the classroom. This is unfortunate and continues to demean and disservice these educators by not allowing them to use the data as a good tool and resource to uplift their practice. Fortunately Massachusetts has lots of really good data available to help educators, administrators, and families look deeply at the education of individual children and groups of children. This data can be helpful with regard to what we do as long as it is used to improve our practice and efforts rather than demean and discredit educators, families, and communities. The data has to be looked at as part of the story of a school community--who is that community, where do they see success, and where might they find ways to improve more. Further when the scores are low, the state has to lend financial and state-of-the-art teaching/learning support to help those schools succeed. For example, a friend of mine works in a system that is facing substantial threats from poverty, the opioid crisis, lack of afterschool programs, little transportation, language barriers, abuse and more. This is a system in crisis and a system that does not utilize much of the good research about good learning and teaching in the past few years. I know that the educators in this system go way beyond the call of duty as I've been hearing stories about the system and the educators for years. I know there are pockets of great success in the system, but they need help with the social problems facing them, and they can't solve those problems on their own. Frankly, I think they have to speak up more and lobby for that support from the state.
I could go on and on, but in the end, it's imperative that educators are privvy to all the data that relates to their practice and students so that they can analyze the data on their own and together to make good decisions with administrators about what really matters with regard to the limited time, money, and energy available to teach well. We do a lot well, but as with anything, there is always room for growth and betterment.