Curiouser and Curiouser: How Well Are You Using Your Data?
By: Jo Hannah Ward
“Curiouser and curiouser!” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
We should all strive to use curiosity and inquiry to propel our work forward. Imagine for a moment that I shared with you the exact piece of information you need to improve something. Imagine I cup this in my hands, I respectfully bow and gently place the knowledge in your hands.
If I were to do this, when you open your hands, you find this note:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy
To change ourselves in such a way that we, in turn, improve others, most of us would start with some data. We probably would invest the most time looking at four types of data: achievement or student performance, perception, program and demographic.
However, the question remains — are we using that data well?
Many of you may be familiar with the publication Moving Your Numbers. It follows the journey of five districts from around the country. These districts share their stories of using assessment and accountability data to impact a positive change. What did we learn from these examples? Although the districts instituted different organizational structures, each implemented a set of key practices that were essential. These practices include:
- Using data well;
- Focusing on goals;
- Selecting and implementing shared instructional practices;
- Implementing deeply;
- Monitoring and providing feedback and support;
- Inquiring and learning.
Wooster City School District was one of the five districts showcased in Moving your Numbers. One of the areas of advice from Wooster is to “use relevant data to focus critical conversations about need and progress and make sure that team members from across the district are working with district-wide data, not just data from the schools they represent.”
When I talk about data I mean more than just the “big” data, like the report card. Data use has the greatest impact when building and teacher teams use data to look at student performance and adult instructional practices and when data use is ongoing.
In Move Your Numbers, the conversations that teams had about data moved from just looking at the data to deeper discussions. They began to analyze the quality of adult practices and eventually organized data in a more meaningful manner that supported the district. The district became a learning organization with the ability to continuously grow and improve.
Data helps us ground our strategic processes and plans around a common set of goals. These goals are based on evidence from data rather than a feeling based on a single experience.
The responsibility to use data well applies to the entire education system, including the state, regional support systems, communities, districts and buildings. At the state level, we are thinking about how our individual offices can better share our data and merge our approaches to supporting schools. As a result, the Department is updating several systems and tools. The biggest effort currently underway is the consolidation of a needs assessment tool (the Decision Framework), a district and building planning tool, a budget tool and an implementation tool. This will help districts and buildings accurately track progress as they implement specific plans and strategies.
Additionally, we are intentionally aligning the work of regional support systems. This includes creating shared tools for regional providers and a consistent process to follow. Our consistent process is the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP). The OIP is designed to establish a common, shared leadership system throughout a district and in buildings and teacher-based teams. It involves the use of continuous communication and good decision-making. The OIP supports strategies that improve teacher effectiveness.
The systems of support that I have been referencing include regional state support teams and educational service centers. Educational service centers provide a combination of services to districts and schools to build skills and empower teachers to use instructional strategies that lead to student growth. This includes systems structure around the OIP process, instructional support and student supports. State support teams provide support to districts and schools to engage in inclusive continuous and sustainable improvement to meet IDEA State Performance Plan performance indicators and the state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
This guide was developed at the University of Dayton School of Education and Allied Professions Grant Center by Dr. Deborah Telfer, with support from Allison Glasgow. The Moving Your Numbers Advisory Work Group also provided input on the guide.
Improvement work takes effort and changes in adult perceptions, behavior and beliefs. I believe you have the effort and energy to focus on adult change, as we all move forward to continuously improve.
“Moving your Numbers”: Telfer, D.M., & Glasgow, A. (2012). District self-assessment guide for moving our numbers: Using assessment and accountability to increase performance for students with disabilities as part of district-wide improvement. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes
Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students.