I have been pondering the issue of data-driven competency a lot lately. (Listen to this podcast if you want to hear the source for some of my ideas)(Also see this site for more of Dr. McLeod's work) I have come to the conclusion that many teachers are not prepared for analyzing and acting on student achievement and few administrators are effective at coaching Data-Driven Decision Making. I believe that following factors contribute significantly to this issue: (1) Teachers/administrators believe that data come with meaning attached. In other words, there is a belief that if we could only decipher the meaning of the information what we need to do in the classroom would be self-evident. When the instructional responses are not obvious there is a belief that there is something wrong with the assessment. (2) Teachers/administrators want assessment to result directly in student activities. This is a variation on #1. An example of this is computer-assessment that spits out data and also spits out worksheets that a student should complete to improve. This approach results the false sense that the data have informed instruction and the student must learn. (3) Teachers/administrators are not trained to look at multiple sources of data to make decisions. When we are faced with data that seem to contradict each other we are perplexed and blame the assessment.
I think we fool ourselves into to thinking that assessment data are most similar to a gas gauge in a car. In other words, we know when a gas gauge hits empty we must stop and get gas or the car will stop running. Student assessment data are not that diagnostic, they are much more subtle. The metaphor that works best for me right now is that of a stock broker. A stock broker uses a variety of data to make a decision about whether to sell or buy, including PE ratio, stock price trajectory, and recent news about the corporation. The stock broker must look at all different types of data and make an informed decision. Teachers have assessment data from a variety of assessments, the student's trajectory, and the affective characteriztics of the student to make instructional decisions. Do we train teachers to do all that?
The tone of the post can seem blaming in some ways. In no way do I intend to cast blame on our teacher preparation institutions, the teachers, or the building administrators. In fact, as a district leader i must accept responsibility for improving our ability to analyze data.