The Flashlight Blog

The Flashlight blog is an online conversation featuring illuminating perspectives on education data use.

Jon-Michael Basile posted on June 17, 2015. 0 Comments

Making Data Work for Teachers

Category: Teacher Effectiveness

A new study shows 86 percent of teachers try to engage students based on their different needs and learning styles, and 78 percent believe that data can help them do that.

The problem—according to the study—is that two-thirds of teachers are not satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have to access it.

Many digital education tools that use data do need to improve, as they often are incompatible with one another and don’t provide teachers with actionable, easy-to-access data. But there is a broader issue here. A tool is only useful if you know how to use it.

Teachers aren’t tapping into the full potential of data because they haven’t been given the proper knowledge, skills, and capacity to be data literate. Like good teaching in general, good data use doesn’t manifest out of thin air; it is the result of many supports—proper training, pedagogical knowledge, skills, access to resources, and lifelong professional learning.

At a briefing for the new study Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, a panel of teachers described the variety of challenges holding back their ability to use data effectively. From what they said, it’s clear that everyone—policymakers, school leaders, teachers, and product developers—have a role to play to make certain all educators are effectively using data to help kids.

“Unfortunately, I think too often the school system in general, and frankly the way the profession has been organized, is constantly like fighting upstream,” said Eric Westendorf, former public charter school principal and current CEO and cofounder of LearnZillion. “To actually be really data-driven you’re constantly fighting against the wind.”

“I’m not sure that very many teachers get good training on writing a good assessment and how to read that data,” said Nichole Cerra, teacher of English and design, and cofounder of Design Tech High School. “I think teacher education programs have a real role to play there.”

She’s right. To alleviate this problem, data literacy should be included in the curriculum of schools of education, and be one of the standards for all licensed educators.

Teachers and school leaders can also help bridge data literacy gaps. Allison Dodson never used data for the first six years of her teaching career. It wasn’t until her administrator encouraged and supported it that she started. Dodson now returns the favor, leading professional development classes to teach teachers how to use data at Spry Community Links High School in Illinois.

“What also needs to be done in schools is giving teachers more time to use the data,” Dodson said. Every weekend, she uses her free time to analyze data and group students for differential instruction. This is where school leaders have a critical role to play, creating the flexibility needed to provide time and resources for educator data use. Furthermore, states and districts have and will need to continue to ensure that schools have the bandwidth and up-to-date technology necessary to use digital tools and data. And they must consider teachers’ needs and wants when supplying data and technology to schools.

Teachers are the most important in-school factor to student success. Day in and day out, in classrooms everywhere, they’re responding to the real needs of their students. It’s our shared responsibility to ensure that they can do their best. That won’t happen until we support their ability to use data.

Taryn Hochleitner posted on June 4, 2015. 0 Comments

EdData Privacy Update: 6/4/2015

Category: Privacy Security and Confidentiality

Every sector in our economy is transitioning to digital operations. That means as personal information is collected electronically, new institutional policies, practices, and security processes to govern the safe and responsible management of these data are required. K12 education is relatively new to this transition in comparison to other sectors like financial services, and privacy and security infrastructure continues to develop and advance across the sector. As schools and districts develop internal systems to safeguard student data, are there established practices in other sectors they can learn from?

A new paper published by experts at EducationCounsel distills promising data privacy and security policies and practices used in financial services, healthcare, and digital application software development into a useful check list of recommended activities for educational institutions.

The authors explain that while education has unique considerations, state, district, and school leaders do not have to start from scratch when they are building out these policies and practices. Many of the challenges the education sector faces are common to other industries. The financial services, healthcare, and digital application software development sectors have already built an infrastructure for safeguarding data, and there are many similarities between their approaches.  Based on their analysis of these similarities, the authors recommend three key areas of focus for districts and schools when working on addressing privacy and security:

  • Establish internal ground rules: Schools and districts should review and improve internal processes for managing data, starting with assessing data collection practices and identifying security objectives.
  • Manage third party vendor relationships: Schools and districts should adopt a vendor approval and governance framework and establish a set of criteria to properly evaluate the risk of providing a vendor with access to student data, for example.
  • Commit to continuous improvement and transparency: Schools and districts should continuously make updates to improve data security policies and procedures, and maintain a commitment to transparency and communication with parents, students, and teachers.

Read the full paper with detailed recommendations here.

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