Data analysis discussions: from hesitancy to thirst

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A core reform area of President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTT) framework, the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program, offered funding to states for the development of their own

A core reform area of President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTT) framework, the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program, offered funding to states for the development of their own data systems. As a result, Arizona received funding to build a longitudinal student data system. However the targeted audience—teachers—needed training to move from a state of ‘data rich but information poor’ to one of developing actionable knowledge.

In this mixed methods action research study, six teachers from three schools participated in job-embedded data-informed decision making (DIDM) and root cause analysis (RCA) professional development to improve their abilities to employ DIDM and RCA strategies to determine root causes for student achievement gaps. This study was based on the theories of situated learning, specifically the concept of communities of practice (CoP), change theory, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM). Because teachers comprise most of the workforce in a district, it is important to encourage them to shift from working in isolation to effectively implement and sustain changes in practice. To address this concern, an online wiki provided an avenue for participants to interact, reflect, and share experiences across schools as they engaged in the application of new learning.

The results from this ten-week study indicated an increase in participant readiness levels to: (a) use and manage data sources, (b) apply strategies, and (c) collaborate with others to solve problems of practice. Results also showed that participants engaged in collaborative conversation using the online wiki when they wanted to share concerns or gain further information to make decisions. The online collaboration results indicated higher levels of online discussion occurred when participants were attempting to solve a problem of practice during the learning process.

Overall, participants (a) used collaborative strategies to seek, create, and/or utilize multiple sources of data, not just student learning data, (b) worked through implementation challenges when making changes in practice, and (c) sought further types of data collection to inform their decisions about root causes. Implications from this study warrant further investigation into the use of an online CoP as an avenue for increasing teacher collaboration across schools.