Data, data, data. Through our work with Michigan K-12 schools and districts, we found schools who successfully raised achievement and closed achievement gaps focused on multiple forms of data. One MSU K-12 Outreach staff member observed: “The use of data for instructional improvement is often a rallying point for both administrators and teachers.” When leaders and staff engage in their own the data, they are able to take ownership of the story the data told. “When we put good data in front of teachers and walk them through the process of disaggregating the data, they can be key in identifying areas of concern. We have to slow down and have rich dialogues about the data and the process, as well as to monitor implementation,” And when staff members “put faces on the data,” they are able to make the leap to student-centered learning

Using data requires time, something that is in short supply for most schools. The most successful schools find creative ways to give staff the necessary time because they recognized that--as one MSU K-12 Outreach specialist noted--“the key to the using data to increase students’ academic performance lies in both individual and collaborative effort of staff members to understand, analyze and use pertinent information in designing energetic, meaningful, and effective lessons.”

Michigan’s statewide system of support, MI Excel, is using a new approach to help school districts diagnose areas of improvement and identify transformational school improvement strategies: Data Dialogues. This Mini Series describes this inquiry-based approach and offers a real-life example of how data dialogues were successfully used by one district. That district’s story will demonstrate how the process works and highlight the elements that make data dialogues so effective.

During a recent visit to Michigan State University’s (MSU) College of Education, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said using data well is a common characteristic of turnaround schools. “In schools that have improved student achievement, everyone knows and understands weak spots, and tries to create strategies based on them,” Flanagan said.

collaborative school improvementBook Author: Trent Kaufman,  Emily Grimm, and Allison Miller

Data-based decision making is standard practice in districts and schools across the globe. Often, school-level personnel find data-based inquiry to be challenging for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond their control. Collaborative School Improvement is an examination of three districts' efforts to reform and support teaching and learning in their schools through an increased emphasis on building capacity at the school level to employ data-based inquiry into instructional reform strategies. The authors identify eight practices that districts can use in connecting with schools toward improving instructional performance.

In a previous article, I asked educators to consider the stories they could tell using culturally-situated data dialogues. Here I return to the significance of centering culture in data dialogues, because discussions about student academic performance and overall development are inadequate and potentially harmful when excluding explicit examination of how issues of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and social class shape instruction and learning outcomes. Oftentimes students who have been historically disenfranchised by the educational system are the subgroups of focus for academic intervention (e.g., low-income students, boys of color, English Language Learners). Using data dialogues to better understand how culture mediates school leadership, parent engagement, teacher instruction, and student learning can result in more focused goal-setting for school improvement plans and identification of expectations that are culturally relevant and responsive.

Using data to drive school improvement sounds straightforward. Every day educators hear terminology like "data-driven decision making," "data dashboard," and "data analytics" with surprising frequency. Schools are awash in data more than ever before. On the one hand, the possibilities presented by these data systems are incredible. On the other hand, it is easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of the data. Rich datasets are often underutilized because educators are either unaware the data exists, or are unsure about how to effectively use the data. In this article, we want to showcase some specific data that can be used to drive school improvement for English language learners (ELLs).

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