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Five Ways Teacher-Powered Schools Use Data

For many of us teachers, data is something that happens to us. Data feels meaningless, disconnected, and, at times, punitive. But it does not have to be this way. I work at UCLA Community School, a teacher-powered school located in a densely populated immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. We are a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade community school with a vision that our students will graduate prepared to succeed in college, pursue meaningful careers, and participate in our democracy. For the past nine years, we have worked closely with UCLA researchers to develop, collect, and analyze data to solve problems of practice core to our vision.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned.

Dedicate time and resources to making collective decisions about which data align with your school’s vision and values. When our school first opened, we spent the first year developing common assessments that measured the academic skills that mattered to our teachers, students, and parents. Some of the assessments we developed include:

  • A bilingual reading assessment to monitor students’ progress towards becoming bilingual and biliterate;
  • An English common assessment adapted from a college placement exam to measure analytical writing and college-readiness; and  
  • Content-specific, literacy-rich common assessments to assess critical analysis and argumentation.
  • The practice of deciding together what data to collect was instrumental in helping us understand the school’s vision in a deep way, which strengthened our shared commitment to the school’s vision and values.

Use multiple measures to see the whole student. Our middle-school teachers found that information such as grade level, language classification, and attendance history was not enough to know their students. They now collect a wide range of information such as reading level, parental involvement, and 40 assets, as well as anecdotal notes about the student’s strengths, interests, aspirations. Teachers use this information to create programs that engage and prepare students for high school.

Use multiple measures to better understand and solve complex problems. We use multiple measures to evaluate our learning programs, to understand why things are not working, and to make improvements. Every year we collect staff survey data on working conditions, professional learning, and teachers’ adjunct duties. In 2014, a majority of teachers felt that their work was unsustainable and unfocused. The Leadership Team prioritized goals, streamlined workflow, and changed the school’s schedule to give teachers more time to collaborate. As a result, we are seeing significant increases in our students’ reading levels and college-going rate as well as our teacher retention rate, which has increased from 80% in 2009 to 98% in 2016.   

Empower students to own their data to showcase their learning, tell their personal stories, and plan for the future. For the past few years, our fourth- and fifth-grade students have been analyzing their English and Spanish reading data. Students plot their English and Spanish reading data on a bar chart and reflect on their progress in both languages. Students then set goals for improvement. During parent conferences, students share their data and story with their parents and teacher. We use similar activities to guide our middle-school and high-school students. We see that when students are given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, their motivation, investment, and passion for learning increase.

Share your school’s story. A few weeks ago, our district released our school’s “Report Card,” a short document for parents that lists key data points based on the district’s goals. I was disappointed at some of our standardized results, and I resented that these bar graphs and percentages were representing our students, parents, and teachers. I asked Karen Hunter Quartz, the UCLA Research Director, to help me analyze our standardized data and she responded with this email:

Dear Rebekah,
Our accountability narrative must include our own measures. Don’t get too down about the index numbers. Yes, we must own them but there is a richer story to tell that standardized data cannot capture.
Best, Karen 

She reminded me that we have the power to write our story—a story that captures a more nuanced and holistic picture of our students and teachers. When we trust our work, write our stories, and share them with others, we begin to weave together a larger narrative that captures the rich and exciting story behind the teacher-powered schools movement.

Many teachers from teacher-powered schools report feeling isolated and alone, but the truth is that there are over 100 identified teacher-powered schools across the nation. Even more exist but have not been identified yet. The Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative is a growing movement that has the support of teachers, parents, and students, as well as many unions, districts, and nonprofit organizations. When we share our story, we strengthen the movement, and we strengthen public education at large.

We all have rich stories to tell and now, more than ever, we must tell our stories.

Rebekah M. Kang is a 6th-12th grade Special Education teacher at UCLA Community School, a kindergarten through 12th-grade public school in Los Angeles, California. UCLA Community School's design started with a social justice vision to prepare all students to succeed in college, have meaningful careers, and participate in our democracy. As one of the founding teachers, Rebekah has helped start and develop some signature learning programs such as the Seminar Program and Integration Program for students with disabilities. Rebekah is a National Board Certified Teacher, a UCLA Writing Project Fellow, and an Ambassador for the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative

Contact Rebekah Kang at rmkang@gmail.com
Follow Rebekah on Twitter: @rmkang110

3 Comments

Tricia Ebner commented on February 20, 2017 at 1:04pm:

Useful ideas across contexts--

I can relate so well to the sentiment at the beginning of this piece: ". . . data is something that happens to us." I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel that way myself at times. What I love here is the way that you've shared the story of UCLA Community School's effort to take that data, act upon it, and also refine the tools used to gather data, so that data is truly valuable and useful for teachers, students, parents, and community. That is the key.

How might those of us in different kinds of schools--teacher-powered and otherwise--take these ideas and use them? I'd love to hear thoughts from teachers in all different kinds of settings. 

Ben Owens commented on February 23, 2017 at 9:27am:

Data is the key to continuous improvement for students

This piece has some poignant insights into how we can leverage data to make authentic improvements in every level of our schools. Rather than being fearful of data, it encourages us to create and use data that aligns with our school’s culture and values. We can each do a better job of not only pointing to a holistic view of how our schools are helping students, but also use data as a unique opportunity to market the value we bring to student lives – something that has to be a part of the conversation in a time when school choice is a reality, whether we like it or not.

In an age where data can feel like an oppressive add-on to what teachers do, Kang’s insights can help diligent educators make the transparent use of data work for them, rather than against them. And from my experience, this is one of the significant benefits of a teacher-powered school: teachers are constantly working a feedback loop to gather information regarding the effectiveness of their actions and then using collaborative analysis with the professional freedom to make real-time adjustments. In doing so, they are continuously improving the growth trajectory of each student. That's a formula for successful use of data.

Phillip Taylor commented on March 6, 2017 at 7:31pm:

Data vs. Research

I really like the ideas in this post, too, but I think what we're really talking about when we use the term "data" is "research."  When we talk about data that "encourages us to create and use data that aligns with our school’s culture and values," I think we're talking about performing research that aligns with our actual needs and identified challenges.   I don't think it's really "data"  that "can feel like an oppressive add-on to what teachers do," but research performed by outside agents and district heads that don't consult with the teachers and schools to find out what really NEEDS to be investigated and researched.  

Data is really a blank slate, an excell sheet full of numbers, or a transcribed interview, or a survey result: 1) 80% - Yes, 2) 73% - Yes.  

Outside of the context of the research project, "data" has no meaning.  

What I also hear being implicitly talked about is teachers performing their own research, presumably action research, since this is research happening in the workplace or a living environment.  The person who runs a research project, whether more formally or more informally, has the power to design it and interpret the data produced by that design.  That is the power, I believe, that often feels "oppressive."  

I think it's great for teachers to generate their own data in response to some questions and concerns they have, but that isn't really simply, "generating data." Let's give ourselves the credit it deserves - that's performing research in response to questions or concerns!  Let's be precise about it, and then let's do it, get better at doing it, master it, and then publish our results.  With good teacher-driven action research, we have the potential to positively impact the profession in ways that are long overdue! 

Great topic!   

You can see my article on this on Larry Felazzo's Blog:

http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2017/03/04/guest-post-teacher-action-r...

 

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