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Study to Gauge Effectiveness of Teacher Data Use

Washington, D.C.

Programs to help teachers "use data to drive instruction" have blossomed in recent years, backed by support for data use in both the federal School Improvement Fund and state improvement systems. Yet there has been remarkably little research on the effectiveness of data-use training to both change educators' teaching practice and boost student achievement, according to researchers speaking this morning at the federal STATS-DC here.

"We think if we get this beautiful, clean report and we have all the data and it's accurate, we'll know what to do, and that just isn't it," said Diana Nunnaley, director of the Cambridge, Mass.-based science and mathematics education research group TERC. "That's the start of it, not the end of it." 

TERC and Linda Cavalluzzo of the Alexandria, Va.-based CNA Education are in the middle of a randomized, controlled trial of Using Data, a professional development program intended to teach educators and administrators to read and interpret their own student data. In a large Southern urban district with high levels of poverty and high concentrations of minority students, 60 elementary schools—including two schools in "turnaround" status under federal accountability rules—are participating in the study.¬†

The researchers randomly assigned 4th and 5th grade math teachers to either receive the professional development on data-use or the regular district training. Teachers participating in Using Data were divided into 30 five-person data teams, made up of two teachers from each grade plus one data coach. Each team meets weekly to review mathematics student data and attend training on collaborative inquiry, data literacy, identifying student learning problems in data, the use of logic problems and ways to monitor students, Ms. Cavalluzzo said.

"Some teams, when they started really looking at the data they collect, they started asking, 'Do we really need all these data?' and others said, 'Holy Cow, we have all this data and we've never looked at it,'" Ms. Nunnaley said.

Baseline assessments have found more than 60 percent of both the participating and control group teachers say they use data to guide their instruction about once a month. Next summer, after a year of using the program, the researchers will test teachers' data literacy and survey them about their data use and attitudes toward educational data. They will also analyze the performance of those teachers' students on annual state math, reading and science tests, to look for both direct effects of data use on math instruction and spillover effects to other subjects.

This could provide valuable insight into how teachers can learn to use data and how much policymakers can expect data use to change teacher practice. The study will conclude next summer, and I'll be interested to see what they find.

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