Many scholars believe that teaching and learning has not improved nationally because teachers as a group have not learned how to use data effectively to improve student learning. This is chiefly a leadership problem, because many school principals lack the necessary skills to make decisions-based on data. Additional research has revealed that teachers also lack the clarity and tools to understand how their students, schools, districts and states are performing. Thus, it is clear that extensive training needs to take place so that educators and educational leaders can develop the skills to work with data and grow comfortable using data tools that increase student achievement.
Educational leaders need to make data more accessible and comprehensible for a workforce that has most likely avoided challenging coursework in statistics and mathematics. Getting these educators to embrace data-driven strategies may be a formidable challenge. For decades, businesses and government agencies have used cultural simulations to prepare executives for foreign travel, implement diversity programs, and ensure diplomacy at home and abroad. Few educational leaders have used these cultural simulations. Most will be surprised by the visceral epiphany they deliver. If similar simulations can be developed to ensure that all teachers become data-driven educational leaders, the U.S. education system could be poised to make a great leap forward.
Gary Shirts, creator of the culture shock simulation BaFa’ BaFa’, outlines ten steps to successful simulations: 1) don’t confuse replication with simulation; 2) choose the right subject to simulate; 3) develop a design plan; 4) design the simulation, so trainees take responsibility for their actions; 5) use symbols to deal with emotionally charged ideas; 6) don’t play games with trainees; 7) use non-trainees to add realism; 8) develop an appropriate performance assessment model; 9) alpha test your simulation in low-risk circumstances; and 10) set your own standards for success.
Most teachers are not trained as quantitative statisticians and requiring them to work within the realm of data is analogous to requiring them to learn a foreign language. Simulations can ease the anxiety of this process by providing safe places for teachers to increase their understanding of student achievement data and how to systemically collect and analyze that data for continuous instructional improvement. When teachers gain data literacy skills and improve their understanding, the data analysis tasks can become more sophisticated. Solving a problem for someone else is often less worrisome than bringing up your own problem areas and having others comment on them. As teachers become more confident about their analysis and use of data, educational leaders will see teachers displaying class achievement data and clearly showing students where they have improved.
Spotlight Education provides a promising software service that simplifies educational data. Instead of extensive lists of statistics with difficult-to-read tables and charts, their service creates easy-to-read, narratives in either written or video form. These reports offer insightful analyses of education data. They customize the reports for each stakeholder: teachers, students, parents, principals, or superintendents.
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Boudett, K., City, A., & Murnane, R. (2005). Data wise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Corrigan, M., Grove, D., & Vincent, P. (2011). Multi-dimensional education: A common sense approach to data-driven thinking. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Mandinach, E., & Jackson, S. (2012). Transforming teaching and learning through data-driven decision making. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Mandinach, E., & Honey, M. (2008). Data-driven school improvement: Linking data and learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
Shirts, G. R. (1992). Ten secrets of successful simulations. Training, 29(10), 79-83.