As teachers, we lean into our experience. We trust our judgment about students and our instruction. We trade teaching stories with colleagues. And increasingly, we examine student growth data that illuminates our practice and occasionally suggests we refine our approach to individual students.
In the past decade, states and districts have leapt forward in their abilities to collect, analyze and use a wide range of data on what students know and how much progress they’ve made. Districts and schools have invested in data-driven cultures and infrastructures that put insights into the hands of educators who then put it to work for students.
However, the opportunity for teachers and administrators to see such growth information is far from universal, and the new federal education law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – does not require states to use student growth measures in teacher evaluation. It is my hope that states, school and districts see the substantial value in providing growth data both for students and also for ourselves, as teachers. Data helps us shine the light on important information. To borrow from Maya Angelou, it helps us to know better and thus, do better.
As states and districts work to implement positive changes under ESSA, I hope they will move from compliance with district or school mandates, to commitment to using student growth data to improve teaching and learning.
Teachers make dozens of decisions every day to help students learn. Growth data illuminates the practices that actually accelerate student progress.
Christopher Lopez, Principal at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, equips his teachers with insights into their students. “Knowing that each student enters the educational system with unique circumstances, growth data allows teachers to meet them where they are, while setting realistic and attainable goals to close achievement gaps.”
Ethan Lenker, Superintendent of Pitt County Schools in North Carolina, has been faced with teacher skepticism.
“I had to spend a great deal of time convincing teachers that using data was not about playing ‘gotcha games,’” Dr. Lenker says. “The fear is diminishing, and we are really focusing on this important aspect of teaching and learning and its relationship to student achievement.”
States have the power to use data to highlight successes and identify areas where schools need to do better.
In Tennessee, educators have had access to growth data for two decades. State Commissioner Candice McQueen notes both the reflective and predictive capabilities. “Objective student growth data has helped shine a light on equity needs and our historically underserved populations. Measuring student growth also helps us understand if our students are on track to be ready for postsecondary opportunities.”
The passage of ESSA offers educators the opportunity to transform public education on their own terms. In the move from compliance to commitment, let’s not allow this policy change to dial back progress in our school systems.
Commissioner McQueen asserts, “We will continue to base decisions on as much objective evidence and research as possible to support teachers, school, and districts in the work they do to improve student achievement and provide meaningful postsecondary choice to almost one million students across the state.”
How will you show your commitment to improving student outcomes?