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Making Data Teams Work: A Q&A With Douglas Reeves

As those of you who have read our Diplomas Count 2010 special report know, educators are looking for more ways to take data and craft strategies that lead to better outcomes for students and schools.

One strategy, says Douglas B. Reeves, founder of The Leadership and Learning Center, a professional development organization, is to create meaningful data teams in schools. In advance of a summit on this very topic next week, I interviewed Dr. Reeves by e-mail and asked him to share with us some of what the Center has learned in studying data teams.

Dakarai I. Aarons: Can you give me some effective strategies that The Leadership and Learning Center uses for effective data teams?

Douglas B. Revees:
The most important missing link in data analysis in schools is the monitoring of adults. Schools are able to analyze data on student performance with a blizzard of formative and summative assessments. Teachers and administrators report that they are drowning in "data" - but they nevertheless lack information on which they can make specific improvements in teaching strategy.

What we have learned in our work in accountability system design and Data Team coaching is that the most effective data analysis includes not only student scores, but specific monitoring of teaching and leadership actions. For example, teachers who spend more time on non-fiction writing (description, analysis, and persuasion) have significantly better results than teachers who focus their literacy instruction exclusively on reading. Teachers who score work collaboratively provide more consistent feedback to students and also show improved results.

Teachers who are personally involved in the creation and scoring of formative assessments are more likely to use the data from those assessments to modify their instruction than teachers who see only score reports from formative assessments.

DA:
Can you give examples of case studies and/or evidence of schools that have effectively used data teams?

DR: Elkhart, Indiana was the most improved urban system in the state. They cut the 9th grade failure rate in half and improved reading and math achievement in every grade from 3-8. They have used data teams for four consecutive years in a very focused way as their primary professional learning tool.

Norfolk, Va., won the Broad Prize for Urban Education and for more than ten years has used the data teams process to focus administrators and teachers on meeting the specific needs of students. Fort Bend, Texas was recognized by Michael Fullan as being one of the most "completely aligned" large systems he has ever seen, and each year for three years, its number of schools recognized by the Texas Education Agency for excellence has increased.

Certainly data teams are not the only cause for these improvements, but it is a consistent tool with very consistent results.
DA: Are there any available success rates or percentages that you can provide regarding implementation of data teams?

DR: When it comes to implementation, we have learned that workshops are never enough. We study follow up and implementation by school systems using a four-point data teams rubric. We've learned that almost every teacher in the nation has suffered through lectures about data. What matters is not the theoretical knowledge, but the actual implementation.

We have seen multi-million dollar data warehouses and other technological capabilities remain unused when teachers had only received lectures about the possibilities and promise of data. That's why we have learned to practice the "7 to 1 rule" - for every one hour of workshops or seminars, give teachers and administrators seven hours of in-school implementation support.

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