Saturday, September 15, 2012

Getting wise about using data to improve student learning

For the past 3 days I have been in a Data Wise workshop.  I had no idea what to expect when I went into this but I had some idea that it might be connected with standardized tests, since this week has seen the start of the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing at school.  How wrong I was!  What I came to see was that the data we were referring to was a broad spectrum of information on student knowledge, and on the first day we collected this data ourselves through classroom observation and looking at a formative assessment students had done as a result of the lesson we observed.  Data also includes student projects, rubrics, tests, homework, exhibitions and so on.

Starting at the first step on the swirl we discussed how a good school is not simply a collection of good teachers working independently, but "a team of skilled educators working together to implement coherent instructional plans, to identify the needs of every student and to meet those needs".  The idea behind Data Wise, which is an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is that learning from data contributes to building an effective school and to helping the school continue to improve its performance, through aligning the instructional programme with strong standards.  It is through the collaboration of educators who are committed to working together to develop the skills and knowledge of all children that the improvement will be implemented so that students will develop the skills they need for the future.

As shown in the Data Wise Improvement Process graphic above, there are three main parts of the swirl, which itself is divided up into 8 steps.  The whole process is basically a system for collaboration.  In the preparation part a structure needs to be put into place for analyzing the data.  Then comes the inquiry - where educators acquire the knowledge to decide how to improve student learning.  What we came to discover is that digging into student data can help us to identify a student learning problem, called a "learner centred problem".  It is really at this stage that the Data Wise process differs from traditional school improvement plans.  At this point the usual thing to do would be to develop an action plan to deal with the learning problem that has been identified.  However Step 5 in the Data Wise process involves examining instruction.  The data collected is used to help teachers to examine instruction and current practice, eventually leading to identifying the "problem of practice".  The PoP is a statement about teaching practice that is concerned with the learner centred problem.  The really important thing is that the PoP must come from the teachers - not from the observers or school administrators.

The final section of the swirl involves action - deciding what to do to improve instruction and assess whether the changes that are introduced are instrumental in making a difference to student learning.

After 3 days my head is literally buzzing with all the ideas - far too many for a single blog post - so I am going to break up these ideas into 3 separate posts dealing with the main sections of the swirl:  how we prepare to work collaboratively by creating a data team and collecting the data, how we inquire into the data we collect in order to identify the learner centred problem and articulate the problem of practice and finally how we develop an action to plan and integrate it into ongoing school work.  I'm interested to hear from other teachers who use data to inform improve teaching and learning too.  Leave me a comment and let me know what process you are using in your school.


  1. Dear Ms Hos-Mcgrane,

    Hi! I have been reading your blog for the past 5 months or so and today after reading about datawise I had to write you a note to say thank you!

    Your blogs are so informative, engaging and challenging!
    I love them and often share them with other educators in my school.

    The data wise twirl is reminiscent of the inquiry cycle, but I still need to look at it in more detail.

    As a PYP teacher, Coordinator and firm believer in the powers of ICT to help us become even better teachers and learners, I want to thank you for your belief in collaboration and sharing your wealth of knowledge with others.


    1. Dear Roula,
      Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment. I will be posting more about the Data Wise process in the upcoming days. You are right - it fits in very nicely with PYP.
      Best wishes,

    2. Hi Roula,
      The focus-on-assessment tsunami engulfs the globe because you are writing this from India and I live in Canada and I can tell you 'assessment literacy' is rolling through education here like a prairie blizzard.

      You may interested in the concept of "professional learning communities" or PLC practice which overlaps majorly with this Harvard education project.

      Likewise you may be interested in the concept of an
      "assessment wall." The assessment wall tracks data of performance on something like running records, for example, by moving markers like an index card, which are tied to individual students anonymously, along a track to show their growth during the year. The data writ large becomes on ongoing focus of pride and concentration for the entire school. the wall should be in a prominent place.

      Looking forward to reading your posts. Sheri

      Here is a link I got from searching dufour dufour professsional learning communities