It seems to be the topic that every teacher loves to hate : data. Debates range far and wide as to the purpose, pattern, periodicity, and presentation of data. Now I’m not professing to be an expert (according to one ex colleague you cannot be an expert unless you have a beard anyway 😉 ) but I do have an opinion and some thoughts. And since I seem to be on a very long journey back from Bradford with train cancellations, I may as well put these thoughts down.
What is the purpose of data, and data tracking?
Is it to placate senior leaders, and to ‘cover our backs’ to show we are doing something with our students? Is it information to be pulled out at parents’ evening so we can have something to say? Is it to inform reporting? Is it to meet government requirements, and to give us a folder of data sheets to waft in front of the noses of Ofsted inspectors? Is it so we can compete with other subjects at options time and say ‘we are better’?!
I would say the purpose of data is simply identical to our core purpose. My core purpose (and hopefully yours) is to enable children to make progress and succeed. Data, monitoring of data, and tracking data over time is a key way to secure progress therefore should be fully embedded across all curriculum areas, form part of daily conversation, and be part of the language of the classroom that we share with students, teachers, parents and senior leaders. Yes it is for accountability, and yes we have targets to meet, but at the end of the day it is a key tool to help target intervention and tailor support for the benefit of students.
Yet you still hear teachers nationwide complaining about data entry, monitoring, logging, progress checks, etc,. My opinion : if you can’t see the value of knowing where every student is, where they are going, what they could aspire to, and be able to communicate this with them so that they know how to get there…then maybe you should have a deep think about your career. The purpose? It makes you a more effective teacher.
I could end the post there I suppose!
Pattern & Periodicity?
What does good data, and good data reporting and monitoring look like? This isn’t something I specialise in; I speak as a teacher and Curriculum Leader not any kind of senior leader. But I have still seen plenty of attempts at data reporting in my 6 years, have seen new initiatives come and go already, and a lot of time and effort has gone into this. However I can still share what we currently do, and what I think is working reasonably well.
On twitter the other week, there was somewhat of a debate / discussion on the role and frequency of data reporting. I hope those involved won’t mind me including screenshots of the chat, but hey – it was a public domain. It’s always good to have a healthy debate on matters.
To some, there seems to be indecision or lethargy about the periodicity or frequency of data recording and reporting. But surely assessing progress, recording this, and monitoring is the bread and butter of the teaching world? Haven’t teachers for centuries had a log of what scores a child got for their spellings that week, or how many words they can read, or whatever challenge is being measured?
Education is a quantifiable science in essence. You take an input (child plus educator), follow some processes (which are hopefully engaging and challenging, and aimed not just at passing exams but at lifelong learning and the whole child), and at the end there is a final output (the product in this sense being – hopefully – a well rounded, well informed, suitably qualified and enthusiastic student ready to go out in the big wide world). So like any flow system, there is something to measure. So that means some kind of data. I can’t imagine many teachers actually disagree on the value of data and measuring progress, but where we disagree is maybe on the pattern and periodicity of recording and reporting and tracking.
I would argue that you can’t have too much data in many ways, just like a doctor collates a wealth of tests and results in order to make an informed diagnosis. Sadly, my dad has cancer and this is something we as a family are always thinking of, and wanting to keep track of. I am grateful that the medical profession constantly measures, tracks, reports, monitors and re-evaluates because it potentially means changing his life. Now aren’t there some parallels in education? We change lives don’t we? Hopefully.
The debate seems to be whether data should be formal or informal, reported on or not. To me, data and tracking does not have to always be in a formal reporting sense. It is something to inform my teaching practice and to inform students on what they need to do next. So data in my department is more often used as a conversation tool. Yes, we have school policy on recording and monitoring on a regular cycle which is used to report to parents and for formal progress review / achievement for all sessions with students. But if we only use data on these occasions, what happens in the interim? Ask any of the students in Geography and I would expect them to know their ‘should be’ grade , and their ‘could be’ grade and to be able to articulate where they are now and what to do for the next step. This isn’t because we scribble across every book a scary red number or grade every page, but because it is an intrinsic part of conversations in each lesson with our students.
Within the department, we track progress for GCSE on a google docs document that anyone can access, and which is colour coded to highlight those working at / below / above target and a comment by their teacher saying what is going on for that child, what intervention is in place. This document is living, evolving. I expect staff to refer to it and to update it often. It forms the starting point for each department meeting and every line management session. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it does need to be a conversation between me and the team, and to be discussed with the students and parents. I was at a school helping another Geography department ‘in distress’ earlier and we were talking about improving monitoring and tracking so I loaded up the tracker – I was pleased to see that when I did I could see both members of the team back in school were ‘viewing’ and editing the tracker at the same time even though I wasn’t in school. I hadn’t told them to, hadn’t set a deadline. It is just expected. And all this is a legacy from the improvements made by David throughout his time there.
It is up to each department to track and monitor progress their own way at my school, an element of independence so long as you still complete data entry at appropriate times and can show evidence it is being done. Personally I would like more transparency : I would love it if each department (as some do) actively shared their data and intervention documents with the rest of the subjects. This way, we could easily cross-reference students and see if Jimmy who is struggling in Geography due to literacy is also struggling in English and History, and in which case what interventions have they already tried. Then we could coordinate better rather than all try our own thing.
The format and style of data and tracking does not have to be identical, in my opinion. What is important is that it is easily accessible and that staff can identify trends quickly and clearly without having to flit between tabs or screens or programmes. I would argue that each teacher should analyse data themselves, although to some this seems an admin task. I wouldn’t say that every teacher has to input data in a meaningless way, or to produce graphs or whatever pretty spreadsheet. A data manager could present a summary to each teacher that had the numbers crunched and whittled down to the key components, in the form of a ‘context sheet’ like many schools have. However, even with this I feel each teacher should spend time analysing and interpreting the data. To look for trends.
Just like with students. If I mark a child’s book and I correct everything for them, and lay out all the answers, then they most likely won’t really read it. They might scan, but they are unlikely to analyse or learn from it. But if I give them the raw information, or ask a question from the information, then it forces analysis and that triggers learning. We all know this. Otherwise we are being passive. We don’t want passive learners, ergo we cannot be passive teachers.
Personally I still have times when I disagree with data, or I don’t see where a target grade has come from or what FFTd thinks a child should achieve…but I will still analyse it, still use it to inform. I might just subvert it a little. Like with target setting. A piece of paper in my hand says a child in front of me, whom I have taught for three years and who has a fantastic attitude to learning, and who was already level 7a in year9, says they are only targeted a C for GCSE. Do I tell them this bluntly and quash their progress so far, demotivate potentially? No, I’m a professional and I use my discretion. I say that grade was based on data from back in KS2 and that they’ve already proved they are capable of so much more…so therefore their aspirations should be higher.
How do we present data to students? At GCSE we give our students a ‘should be’ (minimum expected grade) and ‘could be’ grade, alongside a percentage chance for each based on the Fisher Family Trust data. We share this at the beginning of the year, and they have a progress tracker that they regularly update based on assessments to plot their progress over time. But every lesson at some point will involve a discussion with students about their current progress, just verbally at least. Just a reminder of what they are currently working at. We still need to build on this, and to give more time over to self-assessment/reflection and students responding to marking but it is getting there. During controlled assessments, progress and data is shown at the start of the lesson in the form of a colour coded spreadsheet that ‘names, shames and celebrates’ progress through the project and students see it when they walk through the door and can compare to others. Likewise following key assessments like a recent mock, we update the intervention tracker progress spreadsheet on google docs to reflect their current working grade, and then this is displayed at the start of the lesson too. Although some students may not like this, at the end of the day there aren’t really any secrets in a class – they very quickly know who got what anyway. And this means I can inform the whole class, if not the whole year group, that although their predicted percentage A*-C is X% they are currently only working at Y% so I better see them all at workshop. This had quite an overwhelming impact this week and ended up with having workshop attendees after school every day – but that’s all good 🙂
Ok, I’ve rambled on long enough. But it is interesting. I didn’t think I’d be the girl to write about data and enthusing on its virtues on a late evening at end of term, but I guess I am growing up. And that’s learning for you isn’t it? 😉
‘Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability’ (John Wooden)