Data-driven teachers by Dr. Scott McLeod

Data-driven decision-making (DDDM) is a system of teaching and management practices that gets better information about students into the hands of classroom teachers. The five major elements are:

• good baseline data
• measurable instructional goals
• frequent formative assessment
• professional learning communities
• focused instructional interventions

Collecting and Analyzing Summative Data

Once classroom teachers have access to good baseline information, they should work with their administrators to select key indicators of success for their classrooms. Principals should ensure that the data teachers receive are accurate and timely.

Setting Measurable Goals

Data-driven educators use baseline data to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, and Time-Bound) goals. For example:

The percentage of third grade students scoring at Level 3 or higher on the state mathematics test will
increase from 64% in Spring 2004 to 82% in Spring 2005.

Focus areas for improvement
1. Number sense
2. Computation
3. Measurement

All SMART goals should include the following:

1. A measurable baseline (64%);
2. A measurable target (82%);
3. A specific time frame (Spring 2004 to Spring 2005);
4. Specificity about what is being assessed (percentage of third grade students scoring at Level 3 or higher);
5. Specificity about the method of assessment (the state mathematics test); and
6. Focus areas that guide future action (number sense, computation, and measurement).

Collecting and Analyzing Formative Data

Simply using baseline data to set measurable year-end goals, without also implementing a system that allows for analysis and adjustment of practices, is not likely to result in significant improvements in student learning. Research meta-analyses have shown that good formative assessment has a greater impact on student learning than any other instructional practice. Data-driven teachers measure student progress and collect, analyze, and report that data to students, parents, administrators, and other teachers.

Making Changes

Many K-12 teachers feel fatalistic about their ability to significantly improve student learning. However, other educators are redesigning their practices -- and succeeding in this new era of accountability. Principals must both help teachers recognize what is working or not working and also vigorously support their faculty.

Data Transparency and Safety

Educators should ensure that relevant data are accessible to parents and students through newsletters, notes home, flyers, web sites, listservs, and e-mail newsletters.

Administrators can facilitate school climates where it is safe to look at student data: data are used to highlight faculty strengths and structure professional development opportunities, rather than to blame teachers.

Alignment for Results

Results-driven educators recognize that even small improvements add up over time to become large ones. Ambitious long-term goals like “achieving 100% proficiency” can be disabling rather than motivating, so it’s important to turn desired outcomes into concrete, short-term goals. A results-oriented school system asks two questions:

• What evidence do we have that what we’re doing is working?, and
• How will we respond when we find out that what we’re doing is not working?

By focusing on small, rapid improvements and then building upon those, teachers are significantly impacting student achievement. Their schools are not only surviving this new wave of accountability – they’re also thriving in it.

Source: “Data-Driven Teachers” by Dr. Scott McLeod, Director, School Technology Leadership Initiative
University of Minnesota. Read the complete white paper here. <>