February 11, 2015 by

Teachers as the Drivers—Not the Subjects—of Reform

Amanda Datnow reflects on the importance of using data for continual improvement. In “Data Use—For Equity” (Educational Leadership, Feb. 2015), Datnow and coauthor Vicki Park offer five principles that promote deeper inquiry around data in schools and districts.

EL Datanow 2-11For more than a decade, data use has been promoted as a key ingredient in school improvement. And yet, it still feels like data-use reform has come from the top. In many schools I’ve visited, data use is yet another item on the list of things that teachers feel mandated to do.

However, I’ve also visited schools in which teachers feel they cannot teach well without carefully looking at student data. Teachers in these schools believe that data are essential to informing their instruction on a daily basis and customizing their lessons to meet the varied needs of their students.

How do we shift data use from being a reform in which teachers are the subjects to one in which they are the drivers?

First, we need to help teachers realize that all evidence that pertains to student learning, including their observations of how students learn in their classrooms, counts as “data” and is crucial in informing instruction. Although district benchmarks or other external assessments can provide teachers with useful information to guide instruction, data use is not—and should not be—limited to these assessments.

Second, it’s important to decouple data use and accountability. As long as data use is associated with external accountability, teachers will mistrust the process and feel that data use is just another form of evaluation. They’ll be more likely to jump to quick solutions to meet external demands.

Instead, leaders must create a culture of inquiry that allows for authentic teacher engagement in all stages of the data-use process. Focusing on the goals of improving education for all students, promoting an inquiry mind-set, and supporting teacher professionalism will help leaders use data for long-term continual improvement, rather than for accountability.

Read more in this month’s issue of  Educational Leadership.