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What matters when analyzing data: STUDENTS

by Cody Whitesell

The realization was so clear. I couldn’t believe I missed it before: In this analysis meeting, we were celebrating data—numbers—and not celebrating the students or work that produced the data.

That experience challenged me to deeply consider the role of data within analysis meetings. In this first post, I’m sharing how my thinking changed. In the subsequent one, I’ll share how that new thinking applies to sharing student-centered celebrations during analysis meetings. 

Balancing what and why to determine how

To frame the role data play in any analysis meeting, I often share the diagram below with leaders and teachers.

Simply put, we conduct analysis with a balanced consideration of data and context to uncover information we can act on. 

Let’s briefly dig into each of the diagram’s three components to better understand I mean.

1. Data provide the what and stop short of why.

We measure what matters. Because we care about what students do and don’t yet understand related to grade-level expectations, we should periodically collect data. 

It’s worth noting that data take different forms and serve a variety of purposes. When collecting data, know what you’re going to measure, what form it will take, and what the limits of its purpose are. Data give us an idea of what’s going on, but we need context to complete the picture. 

2. Context provides the why behind the what.

In analysis meetings, context is indispensable information that only teachers can bring. From data alone, we can determine what students understand, but we won’t know why they understand it. 

Teachers, through their daily work with students, are the context experts. Their contributions about students are the most informed and valuable of anyone in the room. Without those insights, data have little meaning. 

Combining data and context positions teachers to balance the creation of their story with the subsequent action it moves them to take. 

3. Action is how we respond to the what and why.

Analyzing data and context without taking action is like writing a story that is never read.
— Cody Whitesell, ANet coach

The reason we analyze data is to determine what action to take. Analyzing data and context without taking action is like writing a story that is never read. But if we don’t balance data and context, we might not be able to determine an effective course of action. That might look like this: data is disproportionately considered, creating an unbalanced experience for teachers that ultimately detracts from taking action:

Balancing the role of data and context in an analysis meeting takes practice. For leaders facilitating these meetings, it means understanding each component is not only valuable, but required. 

Teachers should bring classroom context for the student data we’re considering. In analysis meetings, I hope to hear teachers discussing student needs and reflecting on instructional moves that did and didn’t work. That’s context. The facilitator’s role is to match the context proportionally with data-related considerations to create a balanced conversation. When I listen for teachers to discuss context, I also listen for leaders to encourage teachers to connect their context to what they see in student data.  

By honoring both context and data during analysis meetings, leaders support teachers in finding actionable information for planning. In other words, leaders should help teachers see why their students are performing on what so that they know how to respond.  

In the next post, we look at how the balance of context and data relate back to celebrations during analysis meetings.

Cody is an ANet coach in Eastern Massachusetts.

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