Data-Driven Instruction and The Stories Data Tell

There is a wonderful video by Hans Rosling that tells a richly informative and entertaining story about global health growth over the past 200 years. The video is so good that I use it as a hook whenever I do a session on data-driven instruction. In his video, Rosling used 100,000 data points to show how lifespans in various countries have changed over time in response to improving economies, industrialization, world wars, pandemics, and other global events. It’s a fascinating four-minute presentation that vividly shows how data can be used to tell a story. That’s right, the data told a story. In Rosling’s case, the story was about global health. But what about the data stories within school systems? Are we using our district, school, or classroom data to tell stories people need to hear?

Data-Driven Instruction is one of Race to the Top’s “Big Three” deliverables in New York State, combining with Teacher and Principal Effectiveness and Common Core State Standards to shape students’ College and Career Readiness. Data-Driven Instruction (DDI) could easily be reworded, Data-Driven Action, for that is what DDI calls us to do: take action based on the data. It seems so simple. Gather data from the district, school or classroom level. Study the data. Talk with others about the data. Ask “Why” and “How” questions from the analyses. Look deeper at the data. Make action plans to address what the data tells us. Have smart and skilled people monitor the action plans. Go back and look at more data after a set amount of time. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Of the three deliverables, DDI has yet to gain traction in New York schools. As one Race to the Top Network Team member told me recently regarding DDI, “Most schools are assessing. Some schools are analyzing. Few schools are acting.” Given the breakneck speed of the Regents Reform Agenda and its concomitant pressures on school districts, educators and administrators have had to prioritize their efforts. Teacher and principal observation protocols, Common Core Standards, creation of Annual Professional Performance Review Plans, and development of Student Learning Objectives have all but consumed people’s time and energy, leaving DDI as the little white elephant in the room waiting for its turn.

I’m extremely hopeful for next year as we draw the 2012/2013 school year to a close. We’ve had many bumps along the road. Tears have been shed, and fear mongering and politicking have at times exacerbated the legitimate struggles of school reform. However, next year will be different. We now know how to (and how not to) write Student Learning Objectives. We’ve learned how to conduct more objective, evidence-based observations. We understand better what the common core instructional shifts look like, and we’re rewriting assessments to better measure student progress in our brave new world. Next year will be better. Best of all, we will have the time and skills to look deeply at our data and tell the stories we all need to hear for the longterm success of our children and communities. People do better when they know better, and so it goes with Data-Driven Instruction.

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