Published on: 08 Mar 2017

To then see what it added to my knowledge of each child – unpicking issues that I had seen in our early lessons, seeing patterns and connections and a few surprises

Understanding the power of data to support learners: reflections and questions

I remember the thrill of a new mark book. I am guessing it’s a teacher thing – the excitement of my new planner and all those lovely purple pages at the back where I would lovingly write the names of the students in each new class. The smiles as I recognised names and wondered about familial connections, followed by the data. The data. A set of columns that grew in number every year. To the point where I stopped my careful crafting and just stuck in print outs. 

The trouble is that in sticking in, I was in danger of having lots of numbers and not understanding the importance of any of them. None of it was going to inform my practice if I didn’t know what it meant. I was saved by my line manager and a school culture of training and development which included regular updates about data and how it should inform practice. I applied what I knew by attending team meetings to discuss planning and met with my head of department to bring the data alive. As a mentor to students, I met with my year leader and went through the data for my group. I had a reference document and other teachers as a ready source of support.

The gift here was understanding the significance of CAT scores across the three batteries (my NQT year pre-dates spatial testing – yes, really!). To then see what it added to my knowledge of each child – unpicking issues that I had seen in our early lessons, seeing patterns and connections and a few surprises. Prompting questions and starting conversations. Getting to know the student, then matching my understanding with the data enabled me to support and challenge them, changing my teaching practice and seeing their improving outcomes.

But what if you hadn’t got that support? What if you were given rafts of data via your data system with no explanation and no connection to planning? For some teachers, this is the reality. Column after column of numbers or letters and no system in place to decipher it. An assumption that they know what it all means and a culture of not wanting to look stupid by asking. A prioritisation of training time that leaves no room for updating this sphere of knowledge. Numbers, codes and acronyms not referred to and a huge opportunity lost.

It seems to me that the shift towards data fluency has happened in varying degrees across schools, leading to a range of uses and expectations. It is presented in varying ways through teacher training and can leave some new teachers unsure of what to expect. It is so important that induction meets the needs of any new members of staff in understanding the data available and in how it can be used for planning. In explicitly going through it, we might avoid new members of staff from feeling lost or overwhelmed with data, lacking confidence before they even start in their new role.

So, a few questions for you.

As a teacher:

  • Do you understand all the data columns on your class information sheets?
  • If you weren’t sure, who would you ask?
  • Would you feel confident explaining it to someone else?
  • Crucially, does it inform your planning? 

As a leader:

  • What level of understanding of data do you expect from teachers? From middle leaders?
  • How are you supporting it? Have you led training on how it informs planning?
  • Do you include it in new staff induction?
  • Where would you go for support?

It takes time and it requires regular review, but well understood and used data builds a wider view of students - letting student, teacher, leader and parent see the progress they are achieving.

By Katie Fitzsimmons, Director, Develop-Ed Consultancy Ltd. If you’re interested in our Regional Assessment Workshops, find out more here.

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