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4 Ways to Build Data-Driven Classrooms

By Larry Berger | October/November 2004

 The No Child Left Behind legislation has made data-driven instruction a mantra for most educators. But making data part of instructional planning can be challenging, especially if teachers are not used to thinking about assessment and data as a regular part of the process. Here are some helpful tips.

Choose the right words. "Data-driven decision making" is a misleading concept. It suggests jumping straight from data to a decision, which is a shallow way to operate and creates anxiety that data will force changes that teachers don't agree with or understand.

Instead, create a culture of data-driven discussion. Let teachers know that you view data as a foundation for talking about students' needs and opportunities in a more rigorous way, and that better instructional planning-not rash decisions-is the goal.

Keep it streamlined. Too often in school districts, data appear in a form that is pleasing to the office of research and assessment but doesn't mean much to anyone else.

Long tables of numbers, complex scatter plots, and anything that depends on understanding standard deviations will not inspire teachers to use data. Teachers will appreciate simple graphical displays such as pie charts or graphs that show progress or the lack of it, with ideas for action.

Don't waste their time. Pay attention to the "transaction time" associated with getting data. Teachers who must dedicate a great deal of effort to completing assessment tasks and paperwork or doing data entry often have no patience left for the thoughtful use of the data to inform instruction.

Set short-term goals. Many of the measures we use reflect a standard for achievement that you either hit or don't hit by the end of the year. But teaching and learning are not about do-or-die moments; they are about setting ambitious goals for growth and continuously monitoring progress toward those goals.

When an assessment tool enables progress toward near-term goals to be monitored throughout the year, then educators can see the connection between the data and tomorrow's lesson plan.

About the Author

Larry Berger, chief executive officer and cofounder of Wireless Generation (, evangelizes the benefits of putting data assessment in the hands of teachers. He has been involved in education and technology for 10 years.

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