In our current social climate, it’s quite fashionable to have a theme for every party.   In the world of education, data use is analogous to these thematic soirees, as data digs must be intentional and have focus.  Could you articulate your data investigative process?  Could you walk a peer through your data digging steps? 

An important parallel between thematic galas and data digs is the critical element of first knowing the objective that you will specifically address. For example, in the film Old School, Bernard and Frank’s aim was to inspirit and encourage their depressed friend, Mitch- the goal was clear to them before the planning started; the result- “Mitch-a-palooza.”

Data mining should start the same way- with a goal, a direction. Fruitful application of data to drive decision-making is not coincidental and does not occur through a “browsing” process.  It’s the outcome of having a strategic theme…a strategic plan. To build our capacity to use data, we must not only review data; but more importantly, we must use our skills of inquiry, such as devising questions and interpreting results.    

Researchers (Heritage & Chen, 2005) suggest these steps to successful data use:

 1.     Before you start digging into the data- determine what you want to know (For example, which students are more than a grade level behind in number sense, which students would potentially Pass+ the ISTEP+ ELA test, which students need refinement/intervention in the area of informational text comprehension, the effectiveness level of your specific standard-based instruction, etc.)

 2.     Collect and access the data (Understand which standardized data tools you have at your disposal to access this information efficiently- this is also an opportunity for you to cross-test your classroom assessment reliability)

 3.     Analyze results (What does this mean in regards to your student readiness and your classroom instruction? Which students fit the original criteria/search?)

 4.     Set priorities and goals (How many students should be addressed?  What is a realistic goal?  What are we using to measure our success? Is the goal S.M.A.R.T.? )

 5.     Develop strategies (What strategies will I implement?  Who will I seek advice from (administrators, lead teachers, teachers that are showing strength in your area of refinement)?  How will I be held accountable?  How will I formatively assess to adjust my instruction?)

The accountability piece in the fifth step is critical to success.  This allows you to reflect and discuss with peers or mentors just how successful you were (or are during the process) in the utilization of the appropriate strategies.  The idea of accountability and follow up implies that the steps to successful data use are part of a cyclical process that doesn’t end…but that is in perpetual use to drive, not just instruction- but to drive our students forward academically in the most effective and efficient ways!  TOGA! TOGA! TOGA!

Scott Frye

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