My Love/Hate Relationship with Data

I am a literacy teacher down to the core. I have always loved to read and tell stories. The idea of teaching kids to read first inspired me to become a teacher. I am a bookworm and proud of it! On the other hand, there’s math. Being a mathematician is not my forte. As a literacy researcher, I was initially drawn to qualitative research more than quantitative studies.

Today I am an academic interventionist. With a doctorate in literacy, I specialize in teaching reading as part of our state’s Response to Intervention initiative. I serve students whose universal screening scores fall below the 25th percentile on national normed literacy measures applicable to their grade level. my perspective soon shifted. The data I was entering into spreadsheets formed graphs. The graphs told a story. Everything changed! Numbers are literacy. Data composes the most wonderful tales about how students are starting to catch on to new skills or about how they have hit a plateau.

Assessment scores weave an intricate web of strengths, weaknesses, growth, and red flags for educators, schools, and parents. The scores illustrate how students have grown and gotten out of the danger zone, too! I LOVE numbers now, and so do the students. One of our favorite activities is looking at the data and seeing where they can improve or how they have grown over time. My students’ motivation to do well in class and has improved exponentially.

Student data numbers cannot be overlooked. In my school we love to delve into the new school report cards, which are formatted in a very user friendly manner for even the least data fluent person. Knowledge of student success branches out as important information for states to analyze as well. My home state of Tennessee set a goal for at least 75% of third-grade students to be reading on grade level by 2025. We must have quality, standards-aligned assessment data to track our progress towards this ambitious goal. We must have educators who are trained to dig into the results and analyze the stories the scores tell.

Data informs national educational policies as well. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) suggests that all states implement a multi-tiered system of support to help students who fall behind their peers. In my job I have witnessed how such systems of support that monitor students’ progress over time are extremely beneficial. We are often able to intervene early with students due to the information the scores tell us. Helping students get on track for their entire educational careers is so rewarding!

Take it from me, a true convert, data gives us valuable evidence to inform our craft as educators. Teachers strive every day to be the best we can be so our students can grow to be the best they can be. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use data help my students reach our literacy goals.

Dr. Rachel Peay Cornett is an Academic Interventionist at Brown’s Chapel Elementary. Here she teaches rising readers and future mathematicians in grades K-5. Rachel had been teaching for 13 years, previously having taught 1st grade. Dr. Cornett also teaches intervention pedagogy to pre-service educators at a local university. She recently earned her educational leadership endorsement. She serves on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Early Literacy Council and has helped create statewide professional development about higher academic standards for students. Rachel is president of her local recycling board and in her free time she likes to giggle with her infant son.