Data meetings are not a new thing in education. Assessments happen, data is collected, and folks analyze it. Then what? In the most simple of terms, data is collected for two primary reasons. First, the state and the district collects data to measure a school. Second, data is collected by campuses, teams, and/or teachers on various assessments in order to guide instruction.
Do principals want teachers to use data? Of course! Most teams have at least one or two data hounds. They know how to find the desired data and they want to talk about using it to improve teaching and learning. Let them!
Principals (and oftentimes, district folks) have certain data needs they want teachers to analyze and use.
Principals know that every team is different when it comes to data analysis. Some teams will totally rock everything you ask them to do. Other teams will struggle to analyze the same data. Lots of teams merely go through the steps to comply with the principal's request.
Principals, asking for compliance is not an issue. If you need teachers to recognize their data and plan for teaching based on that data, it is perfectly OK to make them do it. It is important to support fully support their data analysis. This means different things for different teams and different teachers. Regardless of the amount of support, there are a few guidelines that can help principals make decisions about data meetings.
1. Do you give the data or do you expect them to find it and bring it to the meeting?
A fellow principal once used the old adage, "I want to teach them how to fish rather than give them a fish." I understand the idea, but very few schools use data as daily meals. Data analysis is typically like a trip to the grocery store. A full cart of data can last awhile! Don't ask teachers to gather their own data if you are going to facilitate the meeting. Provide the data you want them to see. Join them as they look at it. When teachers are trying to gather the data you want them to look at, they are not doing other things that make their classrooms good places. Is the purpose of your data meeting to teach them how to fish or is to facilitate meaningful usage of data?
2. What is the purpose of your data meeting?
If your purpose is to allow teachers to analyze data and make a plan of action, be sure that is exactly what happens. It is easy for data meeting leaders to get stuck on certain aspects of the data. Sometimes, data clearly points out the things that need attention. Usually, there are many things that need attention. As the meeting facilitator, simplify your meeting purpose so that teachers can walk out of the meeting with some clearly-defined action steps. Even better, they have a well-defined plan of action ready-to-go! All too often, too much time is spent drilling deeper and deeper, so teachers are forced to hurry with the part of the meeting that is meant to plan for learning with the data that was just analyzed. The most important part of the meeting to your teachers is the planning part! Knowing the data and having no time to create a plan of action is wasted time.
Be sure you don't hijack a data meeting to take teachers down the district's ideas of important data. If teachers need to hear that, it should be done at a faculty meeting as quickly as possible. Teams should not be responsible for looking at their own data through a lens created for district-wide or campus-wide data analysis. For example, if your district/campus needs to give attention to the reading growth for the Hispanic kids, don't spend the whole meeting discussing this. Share the data, then let teachers plan for instruction. Teachers do not make plans specifically for Hispanic kids. They do make plans for small groups of kids who have specific learning targets. Simply and quickly knowing that our metrics for Hispanic kids needs improvement is fine. Making plans to teach/reteach based on the data is where the power of data meetings comes to life.
3. How much data do you use?
The purpose of data is to measure our students' mastery of the curriculum. Tests are not the entire picture of mastery. Data is not the only measure that should be used. Tests have bias and almost never accurately measure what you want them to measure. Nevertheless, data meetings should be spent looking at data. It is easy to get caught in a cycle of discussing all that is wrong with the test, the problems with the fire drill and the assembly right before the test, the poorly-designed reading unit of study that didn't prepare them for the test, or the other, numerous reasons the data isn't accurate.
Spend your time at data meetings analyzing data and making plans. It is perfectly OK to explain that the data you are looking at is simply one, important piece of the puzzle. Don't treat it like gospel. Don't blow it off as meaningless. What can you find in your data that will help kids show mastery?