A new school year is upon us, and teachers across the country are returning to their classrooms recharged, bursting with ideas and brimming with optimism. What’s at the top of their to-do lists? According to the data, it’s data-driven instruction.
Nearly 90 percent of teachers think data is critical for effective classroom instruction. And teachers aren’t the only ones; 95 percent of parents support teachers using data to inform their instruction.
But despite broad support, it seems like everybody has a different understanding of what it means to be “data-driven.” Put simply, data-driven instruction occurs when educators collect and analyze data on student learning and behavior to drive and personalize classroom instruction.
Yet, if data-driven instruction is important and top-of-mind for educators and parents, why are data-forward instructional approaches often abandoned, ignored or even derided? It boils down to a mismatch between the allocated resources and expected outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at what keeps data-driven instruction from working in the real world.
Teachers Lack Time
Teachers aren’t afforded the time required to fully implement a data-driven approach to instruction. In fact, 57 percent of educators cite lack of time as the primary hindrance to incorporating data into personalized classroom instruction.
Between instruction, grading, communication and the countless administrative tasks that pop up throughout the day, teachers’ time is at a premium. Taking the time to analyze student data and factor it into a personalized lesson plan is usually something for which teachers are expected to volunteer their personal hours.
Teachers Aren’t Given Real-Time Data
Making the time to analyze data and apply it to lessons is only half the battle. By the time teachers have classroom data that’s action-ready, it’s often outdated. Operating under false assumptions based on obsolete data can lead teachers down the wrong path in their lesson planning and personalization.
Before she started using Schoolytics, Alice Keeler experienced this struggle firsthand: “The worst is sitting in a meeting pretending to care about data that is old or doesn’t really mean anything. This is how data-driven gets a bad name. When you have the right data in real time, it’s transformational.”
Teachers relying on outdated classroom data to inform their instruction is akin to trusting the faded paper map in your glovebox to help you arrive at your destination; even if it gets the job done, it’s likely inefficient and stress-inducing.
Teachers and Administrators Face a Trust Deficit
Teachers and administrators share the same primary objective: to help students realize the best versions of themselves. But when secondary goals don’t align, teachers and school leaders find themselves in a contentious relationship. That friction bears out in the data: While 69 percent of principals believe that their classroom teachers feel empowered, only 25 percent of teachers agree.
This disconnect certainly applies to data. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, data in schools has become so many things—a carrot for more funding, a weapon used to dismiss teachers and a four-letter word. These developments, dovetailed with the dawn of powerful classroom technology, should have advanced data-driven instruction. Instead, they’ve left many teachers feeling that classroom data could be a career liability, not an asset.
Jumpstart Your Real-World Approach to Data
While these hurdles are significant, data-driven instruction that works in the real world is attainable if district leaders, principals and teachers can align on a new, shared approach.
Empower Teachers to Develop the Right Skills
Teachers are among the most educated professionals in our workforce, with nearly 60 percent holding a master’s degree or higher. With this in mind, it’s up to school leadership to tap into their staff’s natural curiosity and cater to their professional development (PD) accordingly.
There are at least a handful of teachers in any given school who consider data-driven instruction an area of strength. If school leaders can identify these data nerds—and we mean that in the best way—that presents an excellent opportunity for teacher-led PD. This gives faculty a sense of ownership over their own professional growth, and it tends to be more engaging than externally-sourced PD.
There’s no shortcut to building trust; professionally and personally, it takes time and consistency. But a foundational building block is vulnerability.
When leaders are vulnerable, their team is given implicit permission to open up about what they’re experiencing, too. For principals, this can be easier said than done. In fact, the NASSP found that most principals aren’t willing to reveal their own vulnerability in conversations with others when trying to solve important on-the-job problems. This is a critical hurdle for leaders to overcome, as study after study tells us that vulnerability is crucial for building a trusting environment for everyone.
Choose the Right Data Platform
Technology is the most efficient way to bring data-driven instruction into the practical realm. Still, as our recent analysis of LMS trends indicates, increased technology usage doesn’t always improve efficiency.
Some districts opt to build their own reports and analyses, leveraging a web of spreadsheet-based trackers as the cornerstone of their data process. While this may remove vendor line items from the budget, there are numerous hidden costs of in-house development, including ongoing maintenance, institutional knowledge lost with staff turnover and shift in time spent processing data instead of actually analyzing it.
Other districts might turn to enterprise data visualization tools for a managed model. However, most legacy vendors offer a one-size-fits-all approach, preventing schools from tuning analysis and early-warning systems to the specific needs that would help them best support students as individuals.
Fortunately, there are data platforms purpose-built for education. These are capable of automating many previously manual data integration tasks while surfacing the most important, action-ready information for school leaders, instructional coaches and classroom teachers.
Bringing true data-driven instruction to life in the real world requires commitment at all levels of school leadership to provide the resources and support that teachers need—from confidence and mindset realignment to clean instructional data processes. But districts cannot neglect the data technology component either. The right platform can provide guidance on how and where to adjust instruction and eliminate the tedious manual tasks that waste valuable teacher time, allowing staff to focus on student achievement.