In education, when we hear the word “data,” our minds often wander to a score that represents how a student performs in Math or English Language Arts. What gets less attention when thinking about data use in the classroom is sensemaking, the practice of decoding students’ cultural background and understanding the role it plays in their learning. This practice is a form of qualitative data collection that can enhance and evolve teachers’ data use in service of their students.
Effective teachers aren’t just concerned about student data that lives in tests, grades, and attendance. Effective teachers recognize the importance of students’ cultural identities and how it shows up in their learning. What’s being described here is culturally responsive teaching (CRT), or the use of cultural traits, perspectives, and experiences of students as vehicles for higher quality teaching. When thinking about data use and equity in the classroom, CRT is a critical part of that equation. What’s more, states are starting to make these connections themselves to better serve students.
Nearly three quarters of states have acknowledged the importance of culturally responsive teaching and have started to include expectations of what that looks like for teachers in their plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In Michigan’s plan, the state department of education has identified measurable indicators for effective teaching environments, including a forthcoming measure of cultural competency and racial bias. Similarly, in Washington, cultural competency standards exist for educators involving numerous approaches to curriculum and instruction. As early in their careers as their preparation programs, teachers are called to recognize and understand the cultural backgrounds of students and use that knowledge to provide culturally relevant teaching practices.
While efforts like these are promising, New America’s 50 state review highlights that more detailed and comprehensive strategies are needed to better support educators in CRT throughout their professional careers. There is only a small body of evidence-based research on CRT, but analysis shows that there’s work to do. More and more, states are making connections with CRT and data literacy – where teachers interpret and act on multiple types of data – that results in boosted academic outcomes.
As state leaders seek to take actions that build a teacher workforce ready to respond to all students’ needs, here are some things to consider:
- Require that educator preparation programs (EPPs) implement data literacy coursework for teachers in training that helps them not only act on academic data, but recognize how their students’ cultural background and experiences inform learning.
- Ensure that data about how teachers fare in the classroom, including how they engage in CRT, is shared with the EPPs that prepared them and used for continuous improvement.
- Promote, support, and incentivize quality, ongoing professional development that is focused on how data literacy skills can be used to support CRT and improve instruction.
- Create new and more comprehensive measures to assess the impact of new approaches like CRT. State and district leaders have to be diligent in their information gathering and patient in waiting for data to support the impact of CRT.
In a climate where students of color make up about half of the public school population alongside a teacher workforce that is 80 percent White, state leaders have demonstrated that there is a critical need for culturally responsive teaching. It’s also critical that leaders and practitioners not lose sight of the relationship between CRT and data literacy. Effective teachers act on multiple forms of data, not just student achievement and progress data, but also data that helps teachers understand the cultural identities of students and its impact on learning. Effective teachers, when equipped with the time and training to do so, use the sum of those parts to produce high-quality, meaningful lessons for the students in front of them.