Why Data Use By Teachers is Key

I am a data geek, I make no apologies for the fact that I love a good spreadsheet and tinkering with charts. However, it seems that this is not the case for the majority of teachers. Yes data can be time consuming, it can be confusing and, in some schools, it is jealously guarded by members of SLT who pass out morsels to the waiting staff.

School Use of Data

The use of data in schools can be a contentious issue. Data is generally collected for two main purposes – for internal tracking, monitoring and diagnostic purposes, and for external purposes. Over the past 20 years, data for external consumption has become a focus, not the sole focus, but certainly it has moved into the realm of non-teaching professionals; a shift that makes many teachers uncomfortable. Kelly, et al (2010:4) found that: “staff think it is collected for external accountability purposes, but that it should be collected for internal improvement purposes.”

Parental Choice

One of the key arguments towards schools presenting their data is that it allows parents to make informed decisions about their choice of school. This view has its problems, firstly, ‘choice’ only truly exists in some areas, largely cities where there are a selection of schools with available places. Secondly, as shown by Allen and Burgess (2012), information about how a school has performed in the past is not an accurate indicator of how the school will perform in six years time, and therefore there is still a high amount of guesswork.

DfE School Performance Tables

The increased level of detail and data in the DfE school performance tables means that, more than ever, staff and managers need to be aware of the data we have in school and how it will be presented in public. This increased focus does not necessarily mean that we need to do things differently as English teachers, but being aware of the additional focus on English and Maths, for pupils of all attainment levels is key.

Although I have issues with league tables and reporting data that might not be fully understood by the consumer, I feel that, in an imperfect world, this measure helps to focus our resources not solely on those who are on the C/D borderline, and if necessary, justifies the inclusion of pupils who would not normally be targeted – not that such justification should be needed, but in these high stake days of A*-C including English and Maths the focus has been skewed – one of Goldstein and Leckie’s (2008:69) “perverse measures”. The continued tracking of these groups means we can check that all pupils are being offered support and that we are doing the best for all groups.

Data, Data Everywhere

One of the difficulties faced by teachers is the fact that the information needed for the department and the individual comes from a variety of different sources, in particular: school systems like SIMs, SISRA, FFT, school, department and individual spreadsheets. It is not surprising that for many this is ovewhealming. This disparate range of sources, and the fact that department spreadsheets often need to be created, is not uncommon in schools. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that data use in schools is not as effective as it might be, as Heads of Subject rarely have sufficient time to source and collate the information, and it takes a well trained administrator, with sufficient time, to be able to keep on top of it. As van Barneveld (2008:2) states: “large –scale assessment data were neither current enough nor aligned adequately with daily instruction”.

It is this gap between the data produced and staff need that makes many teachers reluctant to use or rely upon the available data. “Use of pupil attainment and progress data is widespread across the profession, but least so among classroom teachers” (Kelly, et al. 2010:3).

Why data is important to you

It is easy, as a subject leader, to see the importance of data, in particular lag data, when fulfilling the information needed for SLT meetings and SEFs, it is harder to see it if you are a classroom teacher. But, I want to convince you that knowing how to use data effectively is vital for all teachers.

Firstly, let’s talk pragmatically, what’s in it for you? Staff must feel confident in using data, as the new DfE Standards for Teachers, from September 2012, states that teachers must:

2 – Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils…be accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes.

6 – Make accurate and productive use of assessment…use relevant data to monitor progress, set targets, and plan subsequent lessons.

So, based on this, it is the job of all teachers to use and understand data. It will also be very helpful to keep track of the various groups of students you teach. Being able to go into meetings knowing, for example, who your low attainers are, what progress they are making and what you are doing to ensure their progression, will make you feel more confident. What I am not saying is that you need to memorise all of this, that is where having a clear data storage system – be it a mark book or an electronic system – is key.

But, let’s be honest here, yes the standards are important to us as teachers, it forms part of our assessment and ultimately guides the PM process, but, being hit with the big stick of Ofsted is rarely what motivates teachers, and this is not the main reason we should use data. The real reason data is so important to us as teachers is as a tool to diagnose what students need to progress. This is so important, how can a student know where to go with their learning if we can’t give them some specific guidance. There are tool there to help – although APP isn’t statutory and can be a little unwieldy, it does provide a framework for assessing the students current position and guiding them towards improvement. Knowing specifically what your students need to do to improve means that meaningful feedback can be given.

Hattie (2012:16) states that:

The act of teaching requires deliberate interventions to ensure that there is cognitive change in the student; thus the key ingredients are being aware of the learning intentions, knowing when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, having sufficient understanding of the student’s prior understanding as he or she comes to the task and knowing enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences so that there is some sort of progressive development.

At the core of Hattie’s statement lies the importance for teachers to effectively use a range of data. Teachers need to have a full understanding of the available data in order to plan, teach and assess effectively. Good teachers know their students.

Overall, what has become clear through my research is that it is essential to remember that:

data in itself is insufficient; that it is the interpretation and subsequent use of data that can impact positively on teaching and learning, rather than the data itself (Kirkup, et al. 2005:102).

References

Allen, R. & Burgess, S. (2012) ‘Why The New School League Tables Are Much Better…But Could Be Better Still’ CMPO Viewpoint. http://cmpo.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/why-the-new-school-league-tables-are-much-better-but-could-be-better-still/ [accessed 30/01/12]

Goldstein, H. & Leckie, G. (2008) ‘School League Tables: What Can They Really Tell Us?’ Significance. June 2008 pp. 67-69

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Abingdon: Routledge

Kelly, A., Downey, C., Rietdijk, W. (2010) ‘Data dictatorship and data democracy: understanding professional attitudes to the use of pupil performance data in English secondary schools’, CFBT. http://www.cfbt.com/evidenceforeducation/pdf/5417_DataDictatorship_web.pdf [accessed 27/01/2012]

Kirkup, C., Sizmur, J., Sturman, L., Lewis, K. (2005) ‘Schools’ Use of Data in Teaching and Learning’ NFER, http://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/SUD01/SUD01_home.cfm?publicationID=161&title=Schools%27%20use%20of%20data%20in%20teaching%20and%20learning [accessed 27/01/2012]

Smith, A. (2011) High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools. Camarthen: Crown House Publishing

Van Barneveld, C. (2008) ‘Using Data to Improve Student Achievement’ What Works? Research into Practice. Research Monograph 15. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/whatWorks.html [accessed 27/01/2012]

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