We Can't Forget That There Are Faces Behind the Data

Global competition and knowledge of what successful countries are doing to get quality results have caused all countries to examine their policies and strategies for improving their school systems.

Action research and inquiry are an integral part of education and is necessary in order to improve practice on a continuing basis. Teachers collect evidence to inquire into their practices, assess their effectiveness, identify the reasons for difficulties and successes, and plan how to improve and make interventions as a result.

Principals, learning teams, and supervisors go through their schools with checklists, on instructional rounds and walkthroughs looking for visible evidence in classroom artifacts of what the data have been suggesting to them.  Armed with all these data, Professional learning communities examine spreadsheets of achievement and attendance data together looking for gaps and shortfalls (places where they can quickly intervene).

Its good to have data to help you make better, more-informed decisions and to allow you to intervene before it's too late.  It's good to be able to learn more, in real time, about how your students are doing.  Here are just a few reminders to consider when collecting and analyzing data to best meet the needs of all students:

  • Be evidence-informed, not data-driven. 
  • Don’t overload yourself with data
  • The point of data is to help you know your students
  • Remember that there are children behind the numbers and if the data aren’t helping us know our children better, or if we are so busy analyzing data that we have less time to be with the children, then we are getting sidetracked on the wrong path. 
  • When data are used to promote progress for all and not only to track those who might be falling behind, this benefits learning and achievement for all students and strengthens feelings of professional success.
  • Don't limit data to just benchmarks and standardized tests.
  • Data need to be supplemented by other kinds of data, on other aspects of learning, and by knowledge of children and learning that is also based on shrewd experience and not easily quantifiable at all. 

As educators, we need to remember that data are only numbers on a page, or a spreadsheet on a screen. They only measure what has been tested. And people often only test what they can measure. The challenge for schools is to understand the data available and get behind the figures to explore the strengths and weaknesses they indicate about our students!

In short, we can't forget that there are faces behind the data. 

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  1. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.