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Teachers' Data Use Becoming PD Emphasis

While schools and districts now have a wealth of student data at their fingertips, due in part to longitudinal data systems that states have put in place to comply with federal and state reporting requirements, teachers are just now at the beginning of learning how to use that information effectively, says a new report.

"Promoting Data in the Classroom: Innovative State Models and Missed Opportunities," by the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation, looks at federally funded professional development programs in Oregon and Delaware that are training teachers on using data to improve their instruction. According to the report, the PD initiatives are "models for both the successes and challenges other states are likely to face when implementing such programs."

The report begins by stating that teachers do not get sufficient training on understanding and applying data through their preparation programs, citing a National Council on Teacher Quality study. The authors write that many of the data points available to teachers "are not the rich, informative metrics necessary to help educators design targeted student educational plans. Instead, [the data] come from end-of-year summative exams. By the time accountability assessments have been administered and teachers receive the scores, the students have usually moved on to the next grade."

Despite these challenges, PD programs in Oregon and Delaware "provide valuable models" for making data useful to teachers, the authors contend.

The Oregon DATA project, created by an elementary school principal and launched statewide in 2007-08, certifies teachers and administrators as trainers to work with small teams of teachers known as professional learning communities. The trainers assist PLC members in analyzing datasets and creating better lesson plans based on what they find. Participating districts are required to set aside time for teachers to meet during the school day. According to the authors, one Oregon superintendent even "appealed to the school board and won late start times every Monday so that staff could meet in small groups with their data coaches before classes began."

The report states that "the data project has resulted in statistically significant improvements in student test scores at participating schools," with students at ODP schools performing below those at non-ODP schools in reading initially and above them four years later. The program has not been able to consistently use formative assessment data—relying mainly on summative data from state testing—but is piloting in this area.

Bumps in the Road in Delaware

Delaware, one of the two winners from the first Race to the Top competition, has implemented an initiative called the Data Coach Program. All 2nd through 12th grade core-subject teachers in the state must participate in the program as a condition of the award. The program is similar to Oregon's in that it has data coaches work with PLCs, and that the meetings take place during the workday. Unlike Oregon, which used only in-school trainers, Delaware contracted with an outside organization—Wireless Generation—to provide the data coaching. However, in rolling the program out statewide in 2011, after three months of piloting, districts had the option to use in-school coaches who'd received Wireless Generation training.

The program is also aligned with the state's teacher evaluation system, meaning teachers' facility in using data is included in their evaluation score.

The report notes that implementation in Delaware hit some bumps in the road. Some of the in-school coaches were not effective. And school leaders indicated they had trouble building time for PLCs into teachers' workdays. The Delaware department of education has not published the results of an analysis of the program's impact on student achievement. However, the report states that a survey of 3,000 teachers "yielded generally positive assessments of the data coaches and of the project."

The lessons that come out of the report are some of the now-arguably-ubiquitous understandings about what makes good PD: It must be ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported by strong leadership. Ultimately, the report argues that none of this is possible without sufficient funding, and calls for Congress to redirect the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program funds, currently used for "class-size reduction or isolated professional development activities," toward PD projects like those in Oregon and Delaware.

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