Collaboration is growing increasingly integral to K-12 education. In a growing number of K-12 schools, teams of teachers are meeting regularly to review student assessment data, discuss students’ progress toward meeting standards, and develop action plans to build upon students’ strengths and address their weaknesses.
These meetings typically consist of data teams or professional learning communities (PLCs) organized by subject area or grade level—and K-12 leaders are finding that this type of collaboration around data use is more effective than when teachers work alone.
“Teachers report that when they review data in data team meetings or in PLCs, their instruction becomes more focused on standards and more goal-oriented toward helping students meet or exceed standards,” according to the Professional Development Toolkit developed by the Gates-funded Closing the Gap: Turning Data into Action initiative. “In these kinds of meetings, teachers foster data-based changes in curriculum, ‘share the wealth’ of what has worked for them, and learn new strategies from their colleagues.”
Collaborating around data “helps teachers see those trends together—and five minds are better than one,” said Ann Ware, the former project leader for the Consortium for School Networking’s Data-Driven Decision Making initiative.
Effective collaboration begins with an agenda to focus the discussion and to let teachers know what kinds of materials they should bring to the meeting—and it ends with a clearly defined action plan.
“The challenge of teamwork lies in the interplay of people, tasks, and processes,” the toolkit says. “High-performing teams tap into the unique talents of individual members and value diversity of opinion and the act of bringing creativity to process. Yet team members need to work together, be clear about a common purpose, and be committed to goals and action plans.” At the end of each meeting, teachers should “identify actions they can take collectively and individually to improve teaching and learning.”
Action plans should take into account both the district’s strategic improvement plan and formative and summative assessment data to help teachers determine what steps they should take next, Ware said. These steps might include forming groups of students with different learning needs, so teachers can differentiate their instruction to target each group’s needs—or adjusting their instruction to emphasize certain skills that students are lacking.
According to the toolkit, here are four key requisites for collaborating around data use:
- Standards-based curriculum and assessments. “The alignment of learning targets, assessments, and curriculum to an agreed-upon set of standards is the driving force of a data-driven instructional system,” the toolkit says. “It powers a PLC or data team’s ability to gather, analyze, and use meaningful student assessment data to increase student achievement.”
- Teacher-friendly data analysis reports. These reports should show how an individual student or a group of students performed on a specific learning target or standard. Ideally, reports should be visual in nature and easy for teachers to use and understand.
- Regularly scheduled meeting times. Successful PLCs and data teams “develop a collaborative culture that is enhanced by regularly scheduled meeting times,” the toolkit notes.
- A commitment to following through on action plans. Action plans should specify what each teacher on the team will do next, the resources that are needed (including time and administrative support), and when checks for progress will be done.
The Professional Development Toolkit, and the entire Closing the Gap website, offer invaluable information to help K-12 leaders use data to improve instruction. If you haven’t perused these resources before, I would highly encourage you to do so.