Data can be used to make smart decisions, especially when it is the “right” kind of data. However, on the flip side, too much data can lead to “analysis paralysis,” which hurts productivity and stalls decision-making, especially if those analyzing the evidence are not sure how to utilize it for their benefit.
Forrester Research estimates that as much as 60-73% of collected data by businesses is never successfully used for any strategic purpose.
This happens in school districts, too.
For example, Valley View School District in Illinois has no shortage of data. With 17,300 students, the district receives an abundance of information, including data from PARCC tests, districtwide pre- and post-common assessments in all content areas, Measures of Academic Progress in elementary and middle schools, Eureka Math and Achieve 3000 achievement scores, and professional-development surveys given to all teachers.
Still, even with all of this data related to student outcomes, they faced challenges in successfully interpreting and translating the data into more effective instruction and learning in the classroom.
Just gathering data isn’t enough.
Valley View and its school leaders had plenty of data for regulatory reporting and other district purposes. However, rather than working in conjunction with research, the data was understood in a more isolated way that did not offer much insight that could help improve learning for students.
One of the major concerns within Valley View School District was the wide gap between student performance on external assessments and performance on learning tasks in the classroom. Students were unclear on what they were learning, why they were learning it, and how they knew they were learning it, which became evident in their performance.
According to Karen Flories, Executive Director of educational services in grades 6–12,
“If students receive consecutive 100% on tasks or assessments, that really is educational malpractice. It prevents teachers from guiding students to their next learning steps. The tasks teachers engineer to elicit evidence of student learning must be designed to align with the standard on which they are focused. Only then can we determine where students are, [so we can gauge] ‘where to next?”.
Due to this blurred understanding students had in their own learning, teachers were unable to decide the appropriate actions to take moving forward.
So, the question arose: how could Valley View educators utilize this information as feedback to improve instructional decision making?
Enter Visible Learning.
The Visible Learning research by John Hattie is the culmination of more than 25 years of examining and synthesizing more than 1,400 meta-analyses comprising more than 90,000 studies involving more than 250 million students around the world. It is the world’s largest evidence base on what works best in schools to improve learning.
And it all starts with one important lesson: Know thy impact.
At the start of implementation, Visible Learning was introduced to the educators in order to develop a common understanding and shared language around what success looked like in the classroom. This helped them to determine whether students were learning and what the next steps should be in each case.
The next step was to take their mounds of data they already had and help them translate it into something useful for the district and the teachers. Then Valley View School District could finally implement an in-depth assessment of all of their different education practices to hone in on which ones were showing the greatest positive effect on students.
The Key to Success
Through the training, the teachers and students of Valley View School District were able to gain a substantially improved understanding of the shared language of learning. Students were able to articulate what they were learning, which led to a positive correlation in outcome data. PARCC scores for middle and high school English/language arts and math surpassed the state averages in the 2014-2015 school year.
The work in Valley View School District is far from over, but the lesson learned is clear: Know thy impact.
While there are many tools for gathering data, it is the interpretation and application of that data—using it as feedback about your own teaching and your own school—that sets apart the
If you want to dig deeper into Valley View School District’s success story and how they came to know their impact, download the full version here or watch the video below.
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