Clare McCann is a program associate at the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program in Washington, D.C. and co-author of a recent policy paper, Promoting Data in the Classroom: Innovative State Models and Missed Opportunities.
Data-driven instruction is the holy grail of education. But that buzzword—“data-driven instruction”—doesn’t tell us much about what it is supposed to look like. In the ideal, it looks like a school in which every teacher knows what every child is learning, exactly where every student is falling behind, and the best way to bring each student up to speed. And it’s already starting to happen with the Oregon DATA Project.
Earlier this month, I co-authored a paper that looks at the promise of professional development programs that help teachers master the kinds of skills they need to implement data-driven instruction in their classrooms. We highlighted the Oregon DATA Project as a prime example of the good work happening in this field right now.
Many of you are probably familiar with the Oregon DATA Project. It’s a federally funded, state-led effort to bring data and analysis skills to teachers. And many of you are probably also aware that it’s not the state’s first attempt to harness student data. As the project’s leader told me in an interview, many of the school districts in Oregon expected that the “if you build it, they will come” approach would be enough. They designed data systems and hoped teachers would use the data. As it turns out, that wasn’t enough to start a data revolution in schools.
Instead, the creators of the Oregon DATA Project reached out to school districts, school leaders, and teachers. They built a grassroots effort around data, and certified 600 volunteer data trainers from around the state to coach teachers through the data lessons the trainers co-created. They asked schools to set aside time during the regular workday for small groups of teachers to meet with the data coaches, work through data, and start designing data-driven lesson plans – including a late start time on Mondays for one school district. And they checked in with participants regularly to provide additional support and tweak the crowd-sourced data-coaching curriculum as needed.
It’s still early days for the Oregon DATA Coach project, which launched in schools in the 2007-08 school year. But already, schools that have chosen to participate have seen a small narrowing of the gap in students’ test scores that existed between ODP and non-ODP students in the project’s first year. An analysis of 2010-11 data even found Oregon DATA Project students had inched past non-ODP students in reading scores.
However, that’s not to suggest the Project’s work is done. Most of the data work that teachers are doing in Oregon uses the end-of-year tests required under No Child Left Behind, which are notoriously controversial as accurate measures of student achievement and come too late in the year for the most critical types of analysis teachers could be doing. The state is now piloting the “formative” mid-year check-ins that are the most useful type of assessment, and that could better support teachers in the early grades in which end-of-year standardized tests are not available.
Additionally, teachers and school administrators alike were skeptical of the Project’s potential in many districts. Oregon DATA Project officials have tried to mitigate these concerns by working closely with educators, addressing their concerns before they were asked to learn the data. Requiring that schools provide time during the regular workday for training and small-group meetings has helped ensure the support of many more teachers.
And of course, the Oregon DATA Project needs money to run. Even as an almost entirely volunteer project, there are still some costs for salaries and resources, and expanding the project further will only increase the costs. My policy paper makes the case for broader federal support of these kinds of state-run programs that teach 21st-century data and assessment literacy skills.
Federal policy and state efforts have come a long way over the past 10 years in collecting substantial amounts of student data. But those data are of little use if they never make it back to the classroom. Teachers deserve our support as they learn new ways to help their students learn, and federal dollars for professional development programs are a natural fit to promote proficiency in those skills.
For more information, the full report, Promoting Data in the Classroom: Innovative State Models and Missed Opportunities, is available at the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program website.