Pushing Back Against the Data Haters

Data is such a heavy word in education today.  We are shown charts and graphs and numbers that show how our students are performing.  We track our students’ progress and we track our teaching progress.  Teachers give annual assessments and that show how well their students are meeting the standards and yet, we continue to hear that teachers aren’t using the data.  As we approach the season of data gathering, I’d like to clap back on some of the hackneyed responses about student data.

Opinion#1: “State assessment data doesn’t inform my everyday instruction.”

Teachers know  the best use of  formative and summative assessments in our classroom and what to use with the information performance collected.  However, when given data from outside our classroom, possibly from statewide assessments, district benchmarks, or student/parent surveys, we shy away from pursuing the purpose of the survey or assessment.  I often hear at the lunch table statements like “Well, they didn’t ask me what to put on the test” or “I know my students better than any outside group. They can’t tell me anything new.”  These comments are not constructive.  I encourage you to dig in.  Find at least one takeaway.  From statewide assessments, look for one thing your students did well on and one thing they did not do well on.  According to “Literacy for Life” coaches Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, “Data that sit unused are no different from data that were never collected in the first place.”  If our district or school has decided this data piece is worth the effort and time, we should find a way to use it to improve our instruction.

Opinion #2: “My way is better.”

Chief Technology Officer of the United States and technology advisor for U.S. President Barack Obama, Todd Park, once said, “Data by itself is useless. Data is only useful if you apply it.” Imagine that you go to the gym to work out and are trying all sorts of new equipment.  You get on a machine that you think you are using correctly.  However, a gym employee approaches you to explain that is not how the equipment is used and shows you the correct way to use it. You say “no thanks. I’ll keep using it my way.”  How foolish would this be?  You could be seriously injured, on top of the embarrassment!

This is how we appear when we refuse to use the data available to us.  My way is better despite what you might tell me.  Unfortunately, I see this attitude all the time.  If we are really honest, this is selfish behavior.  My needs and comfort are ahead of my students.  When the data becomes about you, you have lost the whole point.  It is about our students and their future.

Opinion#3: “Using assessment data is too time consuming and takes me away from my daily responsibilities as a teacher.”

This is the one I have the most struggle with.  Teachers are pulled a thousand directions at all times.  Author of Principal Principles, Stephanie McConnell, says “Data is not about adding more to your plate. Data is about making sure you have the right things on your plate.”  What a brilliant game changer!  When we dig into the qualitative and quantitative data we receive from day one about our students, we discover what they need from us as teachers.  This keeps me from wasting time on concepts they already do well and focus on those they need extra practice with.  As you administer aligned formative and summative assessments throughout the year, you gather more data points on your students.  One easy strategy I use is to discuss the most frequently missed questions from formative assessments as starters in my instruction. This ensures I am clearing up misconceptions and reviewing the concepts and standards students have not yet mastered.

As a group of students exits my classroom at the end of a year, I can use their state summative data to see where I need to improve lessons and what lessons are working well for the next year.  If we do not have time to really evaluate our teaching against their learning, what a disservice we are doing to our future students.

All of these opinions really highlight one thing: the need to shift our mindsets about assessments and data from a negative narrative to a positive one. Using assessment data shouldn’t be a burden or even an afterthought, rather information we use to inform our practice and instruction. Help me eradicate these statements from our teacher’s lounges.  They are not helpful or useful to anyone. Let’s help our colleagues dig in and find a gem in the numbers and use aligned assessment data to evaluate and make changes in our classrooms.

Stacey Travis has taught HS mathematics at Maryville High School for thirteen years. She has her BS in mathematics, MS in secondary mathematics education, and her EdS in educational leadership and supervision, all from the University of Tennessee. Along with serving as a TEAM evaluator, Stacey has mentored and coached teachers through the TIGER/TEAM evaluation process. While serving as team leader, she led her department through a 1-to-1 digital conversion initiative. Currently, Stacey is focused on writing rigorous and relevant digital curriculum for her classes that engages students and helps them achieve goals beyond what they believe they are capable.