MCCESC Teaching & Learning

October: Data-Driven Instruction

What is Data-Driven Instruction All About?

Education articles have captured numerous stories about schools that have improved their instruction based on "data-driven" practices and achieved outstanding results within a few years. In fact, "data-driven instruction" has become one of the most discussed new topics in education. However, at the same time, it is one of the most misunderstood topics. Some people believe data-driven schools simply conform to outdated DOE dictates. Others believe that these schools forgo authentic learning and instead merely "teach to the test." Given this confusion, some leaders hope that they can bypass this data craze with the idea that "this too shall pass."

However, it would be a mistake for leaders to give up on data. When conducted properly, using data to inform teaching practice is one of the most effective ways to help students achieve success. Data-driven instruction involves changing a school's focus from "what was taught" to "what was learned."

So how exactly do schools that used this approach get such remarkable results? They were able to implement the four fundamental building blocks of effective data-driven instruction. These four principles are:

  1. Assessment - Create rigorous interim assessments that provide meaningful data.
  2. Analysis - Examine the results of assessments to identify the causes of both strengths and shortcomings.
  3. Action - Teach effectively what students most need to learn based on assessment results.
  4. Culture - Create an environment in which data-driven instruction can survive and thrive.

If there are so few fundamental principles, why haven't more school succeeded? Most schools have assessments and do some kind of analysis, so shouldn't they see dramatic results as well? The truth is, while all schools make mistakes, there are certain mistakes when it comes to data-driven instruction that make it difficult to succeed.

Eight Mistakes That Impede Successful Implementation of Data-Driven Instruction

  1. Inferior interim assessments
  2. Secretive interim assessments
  3. Infrequent assessments
  4. Curriculum - assessment disconnect
  5. Delayed results
  6. Separation of teaching and analysis
  7. Ineffective follow-up
  8. Not making time for data

The 1st Building Block - ASSESSMENT

In his book Driven by Data 2.0 author Paul Bambrick-Santoyo states, "Assessments are not the end of the teaching and learning process; they're the starting point." The author suggests that you turn the conventional lesson planning and teaching process on its head by designing the assessment first. Ask yourself, "What do I have to teach for my students to be able to master the content?" By doing this, you have just changed how you think about teaching. You have changed the starting point for instruction. Now, your assessment can be the roadmap for rigor. Building a rigorous test and then teaching to the level of skill that your standard demands will define your roadmap for teaching. The author suggests using these Five Core Drivers as landmarks on your roadmap for teaching and learning.

ASSESSMENT - Five Core Drivers:

  1. Common and interim - Assessments are common across grade levels
  2. Transparent starting point - Teachers see or create the assessments at the beginning
  3. Aligned to state tests and college readiness - Assessments are aligned to the level of rigor set forth by state tests and college readiness
  4. Aligned to instructional sequence - Teachers align their teaching to meet the rigor of the assessment
  5. Re-assessed previously taught standards - Students ared continually re-assessed on previously taught standards

The 2nd Building Block - ANALYSIS

If assessment is the roadmap to our ultimate goals, analysis helps us figure out where and why we left the path and helps us to determine how to get back on track. When school leaders and teachers effectively examine data, student weaknessess and strengths can be identified. This valuable information can then determine what specific steps need to be taken to reach the end goal. The amount of data can be a big challenge. To be effective schools may need to narrow their focus. Areas to consider for analysis:

1. Question Level

2. Standard Level

3. Individual Student Data

4 Whole Class

ANALYSIS - Five Core Drivers:

  1. User-friendly data reports - Create teacher-friendly reports. Data is only useful if it is in a useful form.
  2. Test-in-hand analysis - The data will mean nothing without the test-in-hand. Teachers should refer to the test as they analyze the data report.
  3. Deep analysis - Deep analysis means moving beyond what the students got right and wrong on an assessment. Take time to look for trends in student errors or trends among groups of students.
  4. Immediate turnaround of assessment results - Make sure to put in place a system to make sure information gained from assessments is put into practice quickly.
  5. Planned analysis meetings between teachers and leader - These meetings between the teachers and instructional leaders should focus on data from assessments. These meetings are essential and should focus on what students have actually learned instead of what is being taught.
Data-Driven Instruction: Leading Analysis Meetings

The 3rd Building Block - ACTION

After implementing the assessments and conducting a deep analysis of your data, the next step is to take action to address students' strengths and weaknesses. The best assessments and analysis mean nothing if we don't improve the teaching - and thus the learning. Creating an action plan aligns the "why" to the "how" and puts the analysis into action.

Effective action plans share key factors

  1. New Strategies - Change your Teaching If you don't change your teaching, results will not change. Continuing with the status quo and use of same resources will likely not yield any different result.
  2. Every Second Used - Whole-class, Small Group and Individual Action plans should utilize every format of class. This will allow us to teach students not what they already know but what they need.
  3. Spiral Review Think back to a class you took in college that you no longer use. If you took a final exam on that course, how would you do? Spiral review can help students to maintain their mastery. You can do this by including questions from previous standards in their daily warm-up questions, content reviews, in-class assignments, and homework.

ACTION - Five Core Drivers:

  1. Planning - Plan new lessons based on data analysis.
  2. Implementation - Implement your plan (dates, times, standards & specific strategies)
  3. Ongoing assessment - Create formative assessments for understanding and to ensure progress.
  4. Accountability - Observe changes in lesson plans, classroom observations, and in-class assessments.
  5. Engaged students - Engage students in improving their learning. Make sure they know the end goal, how they did, and what actions to take to improve.

The 4th Building Block - CULTURE

So, how does a school leader go about building a data-driven culture? Start by putting the components of assessment, analysis, and action into place. Since data driven instruction improves student achievement when implemented effectively, you won't need to worry about staff buy-in! The results will speak for themselves.

CULTURE - Five Core Drivers:

  1. Highly active leadership team - The leadership team should serve as a bridge for the faculty. Leaders should rely on faculty with expertise to serve as leaders. Include those teachers that the staff trust and who others turn to for personal support. Involve all staff in every aspect of implementing data driven instruction.
  2. Implementation calendar - Prioritize time for assessment, analysis, and action by placing dates on the calendar.
  3. Build by borrowing - Identify and adapt best practices from other successful data driven schools.
  4. Introductory and ongoing professional development - Provide effective training for both teachers and leaders.


If you have interest in learning more, please reach out as we can schedule opportunities within districts, online, or in-person at our agency.

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