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Data-Driven Teaching

A policy brief aims to help educational leaders make informed choices about what kind of data is useful, how to collect it, and how to apply it

May 29, 2008
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With the current focus on data-driven decision-making, leaders at all levels of education are expected to make informed choices about what kind of data is useful, how to collect it, and how to apply it in improving daily instruction. Data-Driven Teaching: Tools and Trends, a policy brief from The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy developed under the supervision of Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Paul Reville, examines 10 key questions district and state policy makers can use in selecting data analysis programs and their use in urban districts. The following is an excerpt of these guiding questions.


Drawing on research with teachers, principals and superintendents in three urban districts, the Rennie Center's brief recommends that policymakers at both the state and district levels provide teachers with more time and support for the integration of data into their instructional planning.

Key Questions to Consider in Program Selection

1. How does the program align with the MCAS and Massachusetts curriculum frameworks?
2. How often are students tested and in what format?
3. Who creates the assessments and on what are they based?
4. Is student growth measured?
5. In what format can teachers analyze data on their students?

  • By individual student?
  • Across years?
  • By race/ethnicity?
  • By gender?
  • Individual item analysis?
  • Strand analysis?
  • Analysis by question format?

6. What is the intended use of the data? What are appropriate uses of the data?
7. What does the program require of administrators? Who processes the data?
8. What does the program require of teachers in terms of time and skill?
9. What types of supports are available to teachers using the program?
10. What is the cost of the program?

Implications for the State

The state Department of Education may consider investing in high quality formative assessment and data analysis programs as a tool for low performing schools to use in focusing instruction and preparing students for the MCAS. In addition, the DOE could establish standards or otherwise provide research that helps districts to identify programs that:

  • Align closely to state curriculum frameworks and the MCAS;
  • Allow for individual student growth to be measured across successive test administrations;
  • Offer rapid feedback on student results following test administration; and
  • Provide teachers with some information on how to integrate test results into instructional planning.

Implications for Districts

District central office leaders play a pivotal role in introducing new assessment and data programs to schools and ensuring effective use. As the program takes hold in schools, they must take continuing responsibility for:

  • Aiding teachers in increasingly sophisticated data analysis;
  • Providing ongoing professional development for teachers on planning lessons based on assessment results;
  • Building time into the schedule for teachers to collaborate and use data; and
  • Ensuring adequate technology and technical support for effective program use.
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