School Improvement in Maryland

Engage Staff in Analyzing the Data

Analyzing your data is a process in which you will want to involve your entire staff. Good data-driven dialogue leads to data-driven decisions. If you engage staff in an ongoing data dialogue about what the data is telling you, it is much more likely they will feel ownership for the data-based decisions you collectively make.

Student progress in reading and math for the elementary and middle school grades is measured by the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) or—for a small number of students with profound disabilities—the Alternate MSA (ALT-MSA). The High School Assessments are used to measure reading and math for high school grades.

There are numerous resources on MDK12 to help you engage your staff in analyzing their state assessment data. Low performance areas will drive your school improvement goals.

How do you lead the data analysis discussion?

Principals need to develop a game plan to engage all staff in the process of analyzing state assessment data. The data analysis discussion could be initiated at a staff meeting where the principal introduced some key AYP and MSA data using the web site to show selected graphs and explanations or using overheads printed out from the web site. This overview should include a focus on understanding the AYP target and how to interpret the data.

Or the data analysis discussion could be initiated at a leadership team meeting where team / department leaders could examine their data and then be expected to facilitate the data analysis discussion with their team. Teams would be expected to analyze the data at a regularly scheduled team time and report their findings at an upcoming staff meeting so that all staff would have a complete picture of the student performance at their school.

Essentially, the process of data analysis is a drilling down process. As you start to see an area of concern, you want to drill down to get additional information that might give you a clearer idea of where the problem is.

To effectively lead a discussion about your assessment data, you need to ask thoughtful questions about your data results and give your staff time and support in answering the questions. You are essentially modeling a collaborative learning community as you lead the data analysis discussion. If your end goal is to help staff understand the data and how they inform the school’s instructional decisions, then you will want to model a constructivist approach through the questions you ask. You will be guiding staff through the process of drilling down into the data to gain a deeper understanding about AYP, MSA, HSA and the student performance results for your school. If your end goal is to clarify your problem, your questions will, for the most part, model collaborative problem solving. In both discussions, you need to ask questions that the data answer as well as to identify questions that the data raise. It is important for staff to record the questions that the data raise and that require additional data to answer. These questions help direct the problem clarification discussion about why the data look like they do.

The critical piece is that you model the importance of data analysis and that you engage all staff in the process. The odds of teachers owning the data and making the instructional changes needed for improved student achievement are much greater when they are involved in analyzing the data for what it tells them about current student achievement and their instructional program.

Data dialogues should result in teachers using the information gained from that examination to improve student performance. The challenge for all school leaders is to ensure that an ongoing examination of student achievement data is used to make good instructional decisions that result in improved student learning. Though we have focused here on the analysis of the AYP, HSA and MSA data, we need to emphasize that analyzing data and making data-driven decisions about instruction need to be ongoing, collaborative processes. The focus will shift from state assessment data to classroom data and the expectation will be that instructional teams use student data to make the kinds of instructional decisions that result in improved student achievement.

Data-driven dialogue assists teams in making shared meaning of data, in surfacing multiple perspectives, in separating data from inference, and in making data-driven decisions. Though the data is key to the dialogue, the process of collaborative inquiry drives the results.

The following guidelines will assist school leaders in having a productive dialogue.

Determine your outcome for the discussion.

For example, “What does the data tell us about our student’s performance on MSA?” or “What does our classroom data tell us about student performance on summarizing main idea?”

Keep the focus on improvement, not on blame.

If you ever want staff to feel safe in sharing and using their classroom data, you need to be very careful about using the information for improvement and not for blame.

Model constructivist learning and/or collaborative problem solving.

Provide adequate time for dialogue.

Otherwise, you will have difficulty reaching common understanding.

Keep the focus on what the data show, not what staff think should be done to improve the results.

Educators have an inclination to solve problems, but moving to solutions should not occur until staff have both analyzed their assessment data and clarified their problem. Otherwise, solutions — even if they are effective strategies — may not address the high impact problem for the low performance.

Guard against early conclusions of why the data look like they do.

Instead, focus your discussion on identifying the questions the data raise and the additional information you need to address the questions.

Laura Lipton and Bruce Welman, who developed the Seven Norms of Collaborative Work, advise “allowing adequate time to explore assumptions, predictions, questions, and observations before offering explanations or solutions. In doing so, groups not only reach sounder conclusions but also build their capacity to inquire and learn together.”