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4 Simple Questions About Data for Powerful Results!

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Frederick Brown

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to kick off the Nebraska Department of Education's 2014 Data Conference in Kearney, Nebraska. Nebraska recognizes that teachers and leaders are often overwhelmed by data; don't always consider the many forms of data that students, educators, and systems generate; and often don't utilize effective processes to analyze, interpret, and respond to data. In response, Nebraska developed four simple questions for working with data that have the power to yield significant results:

1.  What do the data show?

In this first question, Nebraska asks school and district team members to continuously collect, analyze, and apply learning from a range of data sources using multiple levels of analysis. Teams are also asked to consider comparison and trend data about student learning, instruction, program evaluation, and organizational conditions that support learning.

2.  Why might this be?

Team members are asked to interpret data by hypothesizing and recording reasons for trends, patterns, strengths, weaknesses, and gaps. This means teams should also be prepared to both question and validate the data and assess its accuracy. Nebraska also asks team members to be ready to communicate data interpretations effectively to stakeholders.

3.  How should we respond?

The team engages in a continuous process to determine verifiable improvement in student learning, including readiness for and success at the next level. At this point, team members are asked to develop, implement, and communicate to stakeholders an action plan to address needs identified from the analysis of the data. In most cases, the action plan would also include a professional learning strategy for teachers to prepare them to meet the learning needs of their students. Professional learning needs of school leaders may also be considered in the plan since their participation will be critical in establishing the conditions for effective teaching and learning.

4.  Did our response produce results?

Team members evaluate, monitor, and communicate comprehensive information about student learning, school performance, and the achievement of system and school improvement goals to stakeholders. In this critical step, teams members are asked to:

  • Measure the level of action plan implementation (program fidelity);
  • Identify test and control variables to be measured and variables that may interfere with the evaluation;
  • Compare baseline data with current data; and
  • Make factual statements and ask questions about the impact of the action on student and educator learning.

The Data standard of the Standards for Professional Learning reads:

"Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning."

If you find yourself overwhelmed by your data or simply seeking better ways to use it to improve educator practice and results for students, I encourage you to consider how the Cornhusker state's data literacies can be applied within your own professional learning system. The draft version of the full data literacies concepts and indicators can be found on the Nebraska Department of Education's website.    

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, 
Learning Forward

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