A Model for Data-Powered Change Making


2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

by Daniel R. Venables

2016 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show: Data Without Tears“I piloted your Data Action Model with Canby School District last year, and I saw the stunning difference it made for teachers who once attributed every failure to thrive to a learning gap. By spring, teachers were asking, ‘What’s the teaching gap? What are we missing?’ That was a huge shift. . . . ”

—Joan Flora, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning, North Clackamas School District, Oregon

Imagine a school culture in which teacher teams routinely use data smartly, not only to make instructional decisions but also to make instructional changes in the classroom. Imagine that teacher teams begin by examining the big data—the macrodata—and, driven by an exploratory question that they themselves craft, gather artifacts and evidence—the microdata—that allows them to pinpoint very specific student learning gaps. Then, the teacher teams turn this high-powered microscope inward, and, using teacher evidence and artifacts (e.g., lesson plans, activities, curriculum maps, pacing guides, assessments, warm-ups), they link the identified student learning gaps to instructional gaps—that is, they uncover the root instructional cause for why and how the learning gaps exist. Once they identify these gaps, the team sets a target learning goal and develops a teacher action plan that will instructionally address the learning gaps in reaching the goal.

The team monitors progress throughout the implementation period and determines the ultimate success by applying an evaluation metric, which they establish at the same time as the target goal. Then, the team decides on next steps based on the extent to which the student reaches the goal. This entire cycle takes seven to nine weeks and happens over the course of five data meetings, in the middle of which is the implementation period.

In this culture, the teacher team is responsible for everything: initially reviewing the big data; asking an exploratory question that drives their investigation; identifying learning and instructional gaps; setting a goal and an action plan; implementing that plan in the classroom; and reviewing the effectiveness of the plan. Everything happens as a team. As Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue in Professional Capital, “Successful and sustainable improvement can therefore never be done to or even for teachers. It can only ever be achieved by and with them” (2012, p. 45). Because teacher decision making and teacher ownership in this model is so prominent, buy-in is not an issue; teachers on the team not doing what they agreed to do is very difficult and virtually nonexistent. If implemented with fidelity, the process produces instructional change, and many schools are using the model to tackle significant student learning gaps.

I call this process the Data Action Model, and it is the subject of my second book, How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action (ASCD, 2014) and a session I will present at the ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show in Atlanta called “Data Without Tears.” This overview of the Data Action Model is will take place Friday, April 2, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.

Make the most of your conference experience with ASCD’s GoExpo Conference Planner and the ASCD 2016 Conference App. During the conference, attendees can connect with ASCD and with each other by following @ASCD on Twitter, by following ASCD’s official Instagram account @officialascd, and by using the official social media hashtag for the conference, #ASCD16.



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

Daniel R. Venables is the founding director of the Center for Authentic PLCs and a Faculty member with ASCD. He is the author of How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action and The Practice of Authentic PLCs: A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams. He can be contacted at dvenables@authenticplcs.com.