Assessment and Data Use to Improve Schools
A wise friend of mine once taught me that you get what you “expect” and “inspect.” I have found this to be true in parenting and education. Expectations are clearly the single most influential factor in the success of any system, classroom, or life. Steven R. Covey said, “Treat a man as he is an he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” Inspecting progress towards expectation outcomes is equally as important. If one fails to “inspect” what one “expects” there will surely be disappointment.
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In education “expectations” are known as standards and “inspections” are known as assessments. When used appropriately and for the right reasons, assessment is a highly valuable tool in the hands of effective teachers. Assessment provides students, parents, teachers and schools critical feedback on academic growth. Considering the current media buzz surrounding assessment and opting out, I would like to share my take on the value of assessment done right.
I would like to focus on the research of Amanda Datnow and Vicki Park. They give five principles to support the meaningful use of assessment data, specifically the use of data use for equity. I am confident that schools in the Sevier School District are striving to implement these principles and I share them in an effort to help parents understand the value and importance of assessment in our schools. When we work together, our assessment systems can help us “inspect” what we “expect!”
Principle 1: Articulate your purpose and commitment to equity. Being data driven isn’t as simple as it sounds. If the assessment processes aren’t implemented effectively data use won’t make a difference. “Shifting the emphasis from solely focusing on student achievement data to including opportunity-to-learn data is a strategic effort by leaders to focus on organizational improvement” (p. 50).
Principle 2: Don’t rush. We must pause and reflect on the data, digging deep. One school administrator explained it like this; “I can give you an aspirin if you have a headache. But if your head hurts because you’ve had an aneurysm, then giving you an aspirin isn’t going to help. If you don’t examine the data and look deeply at the root causes, you might just be solving the wrong problem or addressing the problem in the wrong way” (p. 51).
Principle 3: Use caution. It is crucial that data be used to promote, rather than limit, student growth. Higher performing schools have teachers that use assessment data for flexible grouping within the classroom. The groups shift weekly and even daily depending on student need. Effective middle and high schools have changed their time structures and schedules to enable teachers to address the needs of students who need extra support.
Principle 4: Focus on student engagement. “Student engagement must be at the heart of efforts to improve instruction” (p. 52). Effective schools focus on engagement and have found ways to measure their progress toward improvement. High performing schools have administrators that spend significant time observing classroom instruction and experiencing school through a student’s eyes.
Principle 5: Use professional judgment. “Data are intended to enhance professional judgment, not substitute for it” (p. 53). High performing schools have teachers who are continually emphasizing the importance of getting to know their students. Data informed decisions must contribute to teacher professionalism, not threaten it.
Datnow, & Park. (2015, February 1). Data Use For Equity. Educational Leadership, 4