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What matters when analyzing data: STUDENTS (Part II)

by Cody Whitesell

In my previous post, I was struck by the imbalanced role of data in celebrating success during an analysis meeting. That realization prompted me to sketch out this diagram depicting the relationship between data, context, and actionable information.  

So how does this diagram connect to celebrations? There’s a danger in allowing celebrations that focus only on the data. 

Celebrate students

When I prepare celebrations for analysis meetings with leaders, I sometimes hear this: “Students got 86% correct on RI.8.9. Let’s put that on the slide.” The focal point of this celebration is not students. What’s emphasized here is the data—the 86%. This signals that the number is what matters most. 

Think about it. What do we celebrate? Things that matter most to us: birthdays, holidays, and relationship milestones. But data doesn’t matter most to us; students do. And students live in the context component of the diagram. It’s a subtle and powerful difference to celebrate students; but what does that look like? 

Think about it. What do we celebrate? Things that matter most to us. But data doesn’t matter most to us; students do.
— Cody Whitesell, ANet coach

Students should be singular in the celebration. I didn’t realize this at first, but, as a teacher using interim assessment data to support my students’ academic progress, I never celebrated data. When fellow teachers and I entered data meetings, we were asked to think about a student we were most proud of. We thought about that student and why we were proud for a silent minute. Then, we shared those thoughts. 

On many occasions, there were tears as teachers recounted students who had done little things that meant a lot: Jamya worked the entire time and perseverance is something I’ve been talking with her about; Jamique finished and then went back to show his work, a strategy he initially resisted; Tyreem nailed it on the literature passage, which is heavy on figurative language—and he’s an ELL. 

Celebrating students has two important implications:

  1. It ensures we share success about what matters most in this process. 
  2. Aligning celebrations with priorities reinforces the need to have a balanced analysis and move to action. 

My colleagues and I read Passion and Principle: ground effective data use shortly before I attended the analysis meeting that prompted this post. I attribute the clarity of this realization to the article. It’s a great read if you’re interested in data culture.

“Celebrate students” isn’t a new thought, but it’s an important one. A number on a page and a bar on a screen isn’t nearly as compelling as incremental progress with individual students we serve everyday. 

We need data to make our teaching effective. But we can’t let ourselves fixate on data in such a way that we create imbalanced conversations and overlook what’s really important: each student’s personal and academic triumphs. 

Cody is an ANet coach in Eastern Massachusetts.

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