I like numbers. Numbers are facts. My weight scale reading for today: 165 lbs. Numbers are objective and free of emotion. My pedometer tells me that I ran for three miles today. However, as objective and factual as numbers may be, we still inject meaning into them. The weight scale reading, for example, although 10 pounds lighter than I was last month, still crosses the threshold of “overweight”. And that four-mile hike I took around Lake Montebello meant a cherry-flavored slushy at Rita’s!
Which brings me to the school reform effort centered on numbers. Yes, I am talking about data-driven instruction—a way of making teaching less subjective, more objective, less experience-based, more scientific. In this era of increased accountability, nearly every principal has begun using data to help drive instructional practices. Many Principals in rapidly improving schools often cite data-driven instruction as one of the most important practices contributing to their success.
Data-driven decision making requires an important paradigm shift for teachers—a shift from day-to-day instruction that emphasizes process and delivery in the classroom to a teaching culture that is dedicated to the achievement of results. Educational practices are evaluated in light of their direct impacts on student learning. School organizations that are new to the focused, intentional analysis of student and school outcome data quickly find that most teachers and other instructional support staff are unprepared to adopt data-driven approaches without extensive professional development and training.
If educators constantly analyze what they do and adjust to get better, student learning will improve (Schmoker, M., 1999). By focusing initially on small, rapid improvements and then building upon those toward an ongoing process of continuous reflection about classroom instruction and student learning outcomes, teachers across the country are significantly impacting student achievement. When these teachers are also able to participate in professional learning communities and collaboratively identify and implement effective, strategic instructional interventions, their schools are not only surviving this new wave of accountability but indeed thriving in it.