“In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data”
Throughout the summer, as we have read Venables’s book, The Practice of Authentic PLC’s, a constant has been the reminder of the three purposes of a Professional Learning Community. Very simply, PLCs should do the following: Look at student and teacher work; design quality common formative assessments, and review/respond to data. This week’s chapter discusses the last of the three and perhaps the one that is the most misused.
There are so many versions, variables and ways of looking at data, that one of the biggest challenges individual educators, much less PLC’s, have is to determine what data to use and how to use it. On page 92, Venables uses a quote from James Popham’s book, Transformative Assessment to sum up the use of data about as well as it can be. “Formative assessment is a planned process in which teachers or students use assessment-based evidence to adjust what they’re currently doing.” Looking at data in a PLC must be a planned process (intentional). What common assignment are we going to look at? Why did we pick this particular assignment (high leverage? Readiness standard?) And what is the learning criteria/standard we expect of the students? If the PLC answers these types of questions in their PLC (see chapter 4), the type of data they collect will be much more valuable and therefore can be used to guide learning in the immediate future. If, on the other hand, they bring in random pieces of student work that are not designed around the most important learning standards, is the data (or time used doing it) worth using to assess how a group of students are progressing? Part of this process may be the need within our PLC to develop common “Assessment Literacy”. Does everyone in the group know the purpose of the assessment, what they are looking for, and how it is aligned to larger learning standards? If they do not, it can cause misalignment, inaccurate data, or both.
Besides the planning process of looking at data, the value in collecting data only comes from using it correctly. In NISD, our grading policy categorizes assignments/assessments into two categories: Formative and Summative. The concept seems sound, formative grades are used to help monitor and prepare students for the larger summative assessments that culminate a unit of study. However, the reality is that the differentiation between formative and summative has more to do with how the student and teacher use the information than what goes in the gradebook.
When your PLC looks at data, they should be very intentional about what data they want to look at to assess their own progress as well as individual students. You should also confront the brutal facts about what pieces of data truly effect your teaching and learning. The chart below has been modified from the one on pg. 95 to fit the NISD terms for assessments. It is an excellent visual to show the types of assessments that can, and should be, the most impactful on instruction.
It is my hope that our PLCs during this coming school year can be curious learners when it comes to looking at student data. No matter if the initial results are good or bad, if we take an “inquiry” approach to looking at data and take out the personal side of it, we are better able to find the trends and answers we are seeking. And, if we can connect all three “purposes” of a PLC together we can do the following outlined on page 103:
Connecting Learning Gaps to Instructional Gaps
“All too often, teachers use data to discover where their students are weak or to indentify skills and concepts their students have not mastered, and then they stop there. In these instances, teachers are seeing only half of the issue. Unless and until teachers link these student weaknesses to teacher practice, that is, to instructional weaknesses, they cannot move forward in fixing the problem.”
This short video from the Data Wise project at Harvard University does a great job of outlining the purpose of data to instruction and the effect of intentionally collaborating on data in a PLC.
Harvard University: ACE Habits of Mind (Action, Collaboration, Evidence)
- What evidence do you collect (more data) that shows a response to data improves student achievement? How do you know?
- What is the hardest part of looking at data with a PLC?