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British Teachers' Achievement Data Use Seen Lacking

Happy holidays, everyone! For those who want some reading to help digest their weekend turkey and trimmings, here's an interesting research perspective on teacher data use from across the pond at the University of Southampton.

Great Britain, like the United States, is in the middle of a major push to use student achievement data to improve instruction and school policy. And, like us, the implementation is still a bit hit or miss. Study authors at the university Anthony Kelly, a professor of school improvement and political economy, Christopher Downey, an education lecturer, and Willeke Rietdijk, a research fellow, analyzed the reports of a nationally representative sample of 813 teachers and administrators on their data use across 178 secondary schools in 2009.

While 85 percent of faculty overall said they used student data "frequently," only a little more than a third of lead subject teachers and fewer than one in four classroom teachers reported doing so. Moreover, school leaders voiced more satisfaction with the quality of student data than did teachers. Most schools used a "data manager" at the assistant principal or department head level, and classroom teachers often had limited access to data systems. Moreover, while more than 80 percent of teachers and administrators used assessment data to evaluate students' performance and set targets for them, fewer than half used the data to evaluate or adjust their own teaching strategies.

"Classroom teachers feel that ranking schools according to performance (and other 'external' reasons) is why the government collects pupil performance data, and there is considerable resentment about this because it is thought the government does not trust teachers to act professionally," the researchers found.

Teachers preferred to use their own data, generated from classroom assessments, homework and the like, to improve instruction. Teachers trusted their own data as more accurate, consistent, and timely, and they could more easily interpret the data in the context of students' motivation and other class issues. They also trusted their own judgement more than the national test scores, believing the latter to be unreliable and useless to inform non-tested subjects.

None of those sentiments would be unfamiliar among American teachers. And education leaders here might take a lesson from the differences among British teachers who did and did not use data. More experienced teachers and those given more access and training in how to analyze the information they received were more likely to actually use it to inform their instruction.

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