Acting on Data: How Urban High Schools Use Data to Improve Instruction
December 17, 2008
Amanda Datnow, Vicki Park, Brianna Kennedy
Center on Educational Governance
USC Rossier School of Education (commissioned by New Schools Venture Fund)
This study examines the use of data in four high schools, two of them mid-sized district schools and two small charters (all serving poor children), focusing on its use in the classroom and as a tool for teachers. Through interviews and observation, the authors describe how these schools use data to set goals, implement "user-friendly" data systems, align their curriculum and assessment systems, and share information. At one school, for example, an "information platform" provides data not only to teachers and school leaders but to parents as well (although only about their own children). This same school has a second data system, which acts as a "bridge training program" to help students "plan for post secondary options." It includes an individualized electronic portfolio for each student that is monitored by a guidance counselor and can be accessed by school staff. The report also gives brief attention to the use of data for management purposes, namely, how to run schools effectively (as Rick Hess and Jon Fullerton urge in A Byte at the Apple). For data systems really to succeed, the authors argue, a school must create a common "culture" of data use; since culture can vary not only from school to school but also from department to department, it's an acute problem in most high schools. Unfortunately, the report neglects to compare these four data-driven high schools with their data-inept counterparts, a contrast that surely would have been illuminating. It also does not attempt to prove that these practices lead to higher achievement. But surely these four schools are pushing in the right direction and engaging their teachers in thoughtful, analytical approaches to instruction, guided by such data as can be made available. You can find it online here.