Saturday, April 6, 2019

Four things to remember about data

​It's mid-April. And that means that, by now, you've spent a solid 9,347 hours looking at data.

I've looked at data until my eyes crossed. I've wanted to crumple it all up in a big pile and toss in a match.
I know that sounds like I'm exaggerating, but you're teachers and instructional coaches. You get it.

You want to light it up, too.

So I wanted to help you think about data a little differently, so you don't get so bogged down in all the percentages and color-coding, and end up with zero plans for the future and a little raincloud over your head.

Here are four things you need to know about data.

1. Data can tell us things, but it doesn't always give us the whole picture.

Sometimes administration looks at data from a particular class and says, "Wow! This class is really kicking everybody's tail! Let's find out what they're doing!" And that's great. I mean, sharing and collaboration should be our go-to, and when we have teachers doing awesome things, we want them to share with everybody, right?

But sometimes you have to look beyond the numbers. What is the make-up of that class? Does that class have any students who have historically struggled? Show me the teacher who's closing the gaps for the kids who haven't been successful in the past, and that's the teacher I want to hear from. The teacher who's staying consistent is doing a good job, but the teacher who's moving mountains: that's the gold.

Low math data might tell you that your students are struggling to read on grade level. Or that they aren't identifying the correct operation in a problem. Or that they have difficulty with algorithms. Or that they were really tired and just circled some answers.

You have to look back at students' actual work to figure out what they were doing and where things went off the rails. Without really trying to understand how the student is thinking, data is just a bunch of numbers that stress us out.

2. Low scores doesn't mean "do more".

Sometimes we'd look at data, and people would say, "What more can we do? How about we pull kids in from PE and fine arts, and Saturday School, and after-school tutoring?"

All of these are things people to do spend ​more ​time with kids. But doing more of the same doesn't mean you'll get different results. You'll probably just be more tired, and the kids will be more frustrated and disconnected, and then they'll do the same thing on their test. 
More does not equal better. So to really respond to the data, make sure that you're considering the why. Why are you seeing these patterns? Why are kids responding in this way? That'll help you figure out what to do differently to reach kids.

3. Data is for helping you figure out next steps

This is where the wheels usually fall off the wagon. Instead of using data to figure out how to respond to student learning, we say things like, "We gotta get after it," or "Let's do Saturday School." Ok. So you "get after it" and "do Saturday School".

But what does that mean?

When you look at data, make sure that you're actually planning for the ways to revisit content in a different way, reteach what needs to be retaught, and reinforce the strategies and skills that students need.

One way to do this is to analyze the assessment you gave by question. Really dig in and see which students chose which choice.

Group together the students who need to work on the same skills and pull them in for a small group.

To look across the whole test, talk to your colleagues. Have a conversation about what patterns you notice and what those patterns can tell you about your (and their) teaching practice.

What possible ways can you respond to the challenges students are having? What have your colleagues done that has helped students be successful in this way? How can you build a bridge from the learning students have done to the format of the test?

Make your conversations purposeful instead of fear- and frustration-driven, and you'll walk away with some great ideas. Need help facilitating this kind of a meeting? Check out my post on data PLCs!

4. Test scores aren't the measure of your success.

This one might be unpopular in some (many) circles, but who cares? It's the truth. You are more than the scores your kids earn on a test. If you are using authentic teaching practices, growing relationships with kids, and becoming an efficacious educator, then guess what: you're doing a great job.
We can really get stuck in looking at the data and thinking, "Why am I failing? What else can I do?" And I totally get that. I did it, every year. My kids should've been making more progress; we should've been outscoring the classrooms who weren't using the great practices we were.

And yeah, that would've been awesome. Of course, I want kids to do well on the test because it can limit their opportunities if they don't.

But that percentage of passing on a piece of paper didn't tell me what kind of a job I was doing.

Walking down the halls, and hearing students implement things they'd learned from me, or choosing great books to read, or being engaged in learning something new showed me the impact I was making on my class.

Do we want good scores? Well, yeah! But is that the only indicator that you're doing a good job? (Or even necessarily a good indicator that you're doing a good job?) No way.
And remember, you're more than your scores.

Want to learn about some fun, hands-on ways to get kids excited about multiple choice questions (without having to buy anything?) Check out my post on 7 Ways to Make Multiple Choice Fun!

Are you reviewing data by yourself, with your grade level, or as an instructional coach?

I've got the  freebie for you. I'm sharing my Data Review bookmarks and a printable data review guide to help you get started.

Just enter your email address below and you'll have the bookmarks & guide sent right to your inbox. Stop stressing about data and start making it work for you!
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