Time to analyze and time to act: Prerequisites for making data-driven education effective

The Data Quality Campaign recently released a policy brief titled “Using Data to Improve Teacher Effectiveness.” The brief argues that state policymakers must prioritize five actions to ensure that their states have the necessary data capacity and processes to inform and support teacher effectiveness policies:

  • Collect and link key data on students and teachers at the state level
  • Implement the policies and practices necessary to support a high-quality teacher-student data link
  • Provide educators with timely access to data
  • Ensure that educators receive training on data use to improve student achievement
  • Implement state policies to ensure that teacher preparation programs use data to improve their programs and train teacher candidates to use data

It is exciting to see DQC draw attention to the critical need to build educator skills to analyze and act upon student performance information. But the brief does overlook one critical aspect of data informed instruction:

Ensuring educators have dedicated time to both analyze student performance information and take action

The ability to diagnose student learning gaps is not an ancillary aspect of teaching, it is a core function. Even with access to the best data and high quality training on how to analyze it, teachers won’t be able to affect student outcomes unless they have time to analyze the data and time to act upon that analysis. The school day and week should be organized in a way that makes the importance of this work explicit.

The ability to diagnose student learning gaps is not an ancillary aspect of teaching, it is a core function.

We have worked with high performing organizations that do this. Aspire Public Schools provides teachers with time for weekly “data talks” and explicitly carves out time for re-teaching. The Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago makes data analysis and action planning the focus of professional development days and then dedicates the immediate days after to review and reteaching. Friendship Public Charter Schools in DC organizes their school year to allow for weekly “data meetings” and regularly scheduled “bridge weeks” where students who failed to grasp a topic are retaught and those who mastered it engage in enrichment activities. Each of these organizations have realized that the last mile in data driven education, the one that drives student outcomes, is dedicating time to analysis and taking action. Policymakers should heed their lessons and consider ways to incentivize schools to follow suit.