Data-Driven Education: A New Trend in Public Schools
Many parents don’t have a clue what data-driven education is all about.
Data-driven education — most commonly known as data-based decision making — is a trend in schools throughout the U.S. “Data helps districts and school leaders craft a sound blueprint with measurable results for continuously improving schools so decisions are no longer based on incomplete or biased information” — so says a report by the American Association of School Administrators titled “Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working.” Data, according to the report, can help schools measure student progress and program effectiveness, assess instructional effectiveness, guide curriculum development and even help promote accountability. Unfortunately, it can’t help a district if the data is not valid or reliable or if the data analysis is not used to help the district make wise decisions.
Data in the classroom
“Data — whether tests, student work, attendance, behavior, etc. — is used to help teachers and administrators understand where students are in terms of their learning, as well as how things are going in their classroom,” says Dr. Elizabeth Farley-Ripple, associate director and associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware. Farley-Ripple and her colleague Joan Buttram, a retired assistant professor, studied and published a report in 2014 about how collaborative data could be used in Delaware’s Professional Learning Communities.
Data, explains Farley-Ripple, can “help teachers understand where students are struggling or find patterns in the content that students struggle with, and that information can help them identify interventions to address those areas, to group kids for small group instruction, or use other strategies to meet needs. Similarly, data can be used to help teachers understand where kids are doing well and to provide opportunities to challenge them and help them grow further.” Yet, she admits, data alone is not sufficient. Teachers must have time to examine data, “ideally together as a team, and to have discussions about how best to meet the needs of students.
“Professional Learning Communities, which in Delaware are blocks of time in which teachers are expected to collaborate around instructional improvement, are often a good space for teachers to use data,” says Farley-Ripple. However, some teachers “struggle to use data effectively.” She emphasizes that it’s important for school and district leaders to work together. “When done well, data use means teachers are using all available information to guide their efforts to meet students’ needs,” she says.
Every Student Succeeds Act
The data collection and reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has caused many states and districts to adopt new educational data systems, according to the website of the U.S. Department of Education. The ESSA, signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015, by former president Barack Obama, ensures that all students be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and in their careers. The act also says that vital information will be provided to students, educators, families and community members through annual statewide assessments that measure a student’s progress toward those higher standards.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education website, ESSA will move school districts towards a state-level objective that will provide “broad bipartisan support, including more equitable and predictable funding for public schools and valid measures of school performance that look beyond standardized test scores.”
Private schools vs. public schools
“Public school districts serve many thousands of students, and they typically administer standardized tests at various grade levels,” says Barbara Kraus-Blackney, president of ADVIS [Association of Delaware Valley (PA, NJ, DE and MD) Independent Schools]. “Independent and other private schools are much smaller than districts, so they may be more inclined to use information about individual student achievement to shape the course of study for that student.”
Success in the classroom
No matter what the size a district may be, data, overall, helps students achieve academically. Standardized tests play a very small part when it comes to making data-driven decisions says Dr. Piera Gravenor, superintendent of both New Jersey’s Delsea Regional and Elk Township school districts. “We are now able to cull together a multitude of measures that more clearly illustrate how a student is progressing,” says Dr. Gravenor. “This is a change from what was a hyper-focus on test scores in the past.”
Cheryl Lynne Potter is a freelance writer from South Jersey.