State, district, and school leaders are grappling with the approach to learning after a pandemic-induced disruption to “normal” school, including the abandonment of the usual and customary practices of gathering evidence on student learning. School systems focused on the delivery of education in a remote setting, feeling disconnected from cherished routines and structures that went unappreciated prior to the pandemic. There was little time to address comprehensive approaches to gauging student learning progress in ways that were customary to school districts and schools. Even at the state level, ESSA accountability measures were abandoned because the use of high-stakes tests in the midst of a pandemic only seemed to add to the unprecedented load that systems were already facing.
Nonetheless, despite the pandemic, it is incumbent upon educators to remain steady in the quest to understand the achievement levels of all students for whom they are responsible even with the pandemic disruption to collecting data on student progress. To understand the impact the pandemic had on each student, districts and schools must now gather levels of achievement for each student using formal and informal diagnostic and prescriptive measures throughout the course of this year and cumulatively as students progress through the grades. Pandemic impact aside, the goal, sense of urgency, and moral imperative continue to be on-time college and career readiness for every student and this requires acceleration, not remediation. Data is the launchpad for traversing that goal.
Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to create unstable teaching and learning environments as COVID-19 protocols create unique and challenging situations. Inside classrooms where unfinished learning collides with the demands of new grade level or course content learning there must be a laser-like focus to ensure dedicated, coordinated, and intentional use of time and attention. There is no spare time. This time and attention should be guided by the use of diagnostic and prescriptive practices that involve knowing the learning levels of each and every student (diagnosis) and providing the right treatment (prescription) to ensure that learning gaps are restored and new content is built upon the prerequisite knowledge that students need. There has never been a time more important for knowing the learning levels of each and every student because time is of the essence. According to a McKinsey and Company report published in December 2020, especially for Black, Latinx, and students impacted by poverty, evidence-based acceleration of learning is key to ensuring that the achievement gap for those students does not widen even more as a result of the pandemic experience. Just like the physician who is honing in on a diagnosis using tests and informal observation, teachers must be experts at gathering the formal and informal evidence to determine the next steps in the teaching and learning process.
Who needs the data and how should it be used?
Data to guide instruction is not only critical to the teacher, but also to others involved in ensuring that students are getting the best education possible with access and opportunities to programs and services that will enable them to thrive, accelerate unfinished learning, and meet their potential. The Data Quality Campaign provides a terrific graphic illustrating the power of data in an environment where there is shared ownership of those involved in the life of a student. Everyone and every student-centered course, opportunity, and service play a role in student success; it truly takes a village!
How does data drive equitable practices?
Data is an equity tool. Equity is processes and practices that lead to ensuring that each student has the access and opportunity to what they need to realize their full potential. Students who have the same learning levels and needs as indicated by formal and informal measures must have the access and opportunity to participate in the same rigorous courses, supports, interventions, and programs designed to meet their academic and social-emotional needs. Data indicate who needs more opportunity to learn through specialized programs, interventions, high dosage tutoring, and other supports. Students who know their learning and progress matter to others, develop a stronger self-efficacy which results in accomplishment and personal well-being.
The use of data prompts many considerations that ensure equity accountability in the context of how students experience school. Data analysis that encompasses comparisons of performance among race and ethnic demographic groups, as well as service groups, helps to make informed and more equitable decisions about:
- Extended learning or out-of-school time opportunities like Littera Education's high dosage, data-informed tutoring provides focused time and attention to students who need it most
- How students with the same learning levels/needs are provided the same access and opportunities
- What needs students may have socially and emotionally
- What types of professional development is offered to administrators, teachers, support professionals, and other stakeholders working directly with students
- Allocation of resources (people, time, and money)
- New program creation or restructuring programs that are not getting the intended outcomes for students
It is necessary and right to keep equity as a core principle using data as the launching pad for posing questions and problems of practice that when addressed lead to better, more equitable services and outcomes for all students. Data guides us to provide the access and opportunities students need. Vigilance in monitoring the progress of how students are experiencing school opportunities will ensure they will be on track for college and career by the time they graduate.