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The Newest Trend in Data-Driven Decisionmaking

By Matthew Lynch — January 17, 2017 5 min read

The following is a guest post by Woody Dillaha and Jeanette Haren.

In recent years, there has been a shift from a focus on summative assessment data, such as state test scores, to formative assessment data, to help improve student learning outcomes across all subjects and grade levels. A key benefit of formative assessment is that it provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they’re happening. After all, the clearer the picture we have about what students know and don’t know, the faster we can help them reach the next step in their learning.

The same is true for educators. The more information we have about their needs and their students’ needs, the greater impact we can have on their professional learning and growth.

Yet, for too long, student growth data and educator growth data have been separate -- housed in separate data systems, under the supervision of separate departments. To truly make a difference in teaching and learning, it’s time to break down these data silos and view this data in an integrated way.

Analytics can help. By changing the way we look at the relationship between professional learning and student learning, we can make connections and create insights that haven’t existed before. Further, this new approach -- connecting student and educator growth data with powerful analytics to inform decisions -- can have a tremendous impact from the district to the school to the individual level for both students and educators.

Here are 3 ways that districts and schools can use student and educator growth data to drive actions that create measurable improvements in teaching and learning.


  • Inform and differentiate instruction for students.

Assessments and the data from them are vital tools for understanding and improving student performance. In the classroom, teachers regularly use assessment data to check for student progress, identify areas of strength and weakness, and measure learning gains or gaps. This feedback loop allows teachers to adjust and differentiate their instruction, as needed, to help students move forward in their learning.

For example, at Eastside Elementary in Hernando County Schools (Fla.), the Unify assessment platform plays an integral role in their efforts to improve teaching and learning in every classroom and for every student. For example, the school leadership team -- which includes the principal, assistant principal, assessment teacher, instructional practice coaches, and guidance counselors -- logs into the system daily to review, analyze and act on student performance data. The team also provides Unify reports to teachers, who use the data to guide their instructional decisions in the classroom and when they meet in professional learning communities. Thanks to their efforts, student performance has improved on state assessments in reading and math, and the Title I school raised its school grade from an “F” to a “B” in just two years.


  • Personalize professional learning for teachers.

While many districts firmly believe in taking a data-driven approach to improve students’ learning, they may not be taking the same approach with teachers’ professional learning. According to a nationwide survey of more than 500 principals and teachers, only 60 percent of teachers say that their district fosters a personalized professional learning environment. Further, almost 90 percent of teachers and leaders at least sometimes wish that teacher PD were more meaningful and relevant.

One district that’s embracing a personalized approach to professional development is Long Beach Unified School District (Calif.). In addition to providing teachers with a personalized professional development system called myPD, the district is leveraging data as part of the cycle of personalized professional learning. Toward that end, its teacher training evaluates teachers’ needs based on their students’ academic performance data, teachers’ past training, self-evaluations and administrative feedback. Once these needs are assessed, the myPD system helps teachers create a personal learning plan. Teachers can then gauge their growth and set new goals by accessing integrated information from student academic performance data, coaching feedback, and observations. By offering teachers access to data in a way that’s meaningful to them, the district is able to create more meaningful connections between teacher development and student learning.


  • Measure the effectiveness of district and school programs and initiatives.

With tools such as the Performance Matters Platform, which includes student growth, educator growth solutions, and actionable analytics, districts can more easily bring to light what they are doing effectively -- and what they can do better to ensure that all students are receiving the best educational opportunities. The platform includes tools for student assessment development and delivery, as well as educator professional learning management, performance evaluation and observer calibration. Together these solutions, leveraged with a real-time analytics engine, provide specific, actionable insights that boost student performance and build educator capacity.

Using this platform to capture the actions of students and teachers, districts can measure the impact of their PD and educator effectiveness efforts, as well as their educational programs and tools -- and then see if they’re actually impacting teaching and learning. For example, districts can examine:

- How did teachers do on their last evaluation?

- Which professional development courses are they taking as a result?

- How did their students perform on their last assessment? And how are they now performing with this new intervention or instructional method or technology?

- How can the latest formative assessment data be used to adjust each teacher’s personalized professional learning plan, or school- or district-wide PD efforts?

These connections create powerful feedback loops that drive and support ongoing improvement in student learning and instruction.

With real-time student growth data and educator growth data, districts can take strategic actions to support individual student and educator success, while providing a systematic, continuous process for district-wide improvement. It’s taking “data-driven” to the next level, where (finally!) student and educator growth are truly connected for the benefit of all.

Woody Dillaha is the president and co-founder of Performance Matters. Jeanette Haren is the chief product officer and co-founder of Performance Matters.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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