Assessment and evaluation literacy in education is a key skill for school professionals. The increasing prevalence of international and national testing means that effective data use is an important element of professional learning in education. Teachers and principals need to develop the collective capacity to understand and use data to make sense of educational issues and use that knowledge to inform practices in classrooms and schools.
There are two important points to highlight in this statement. First that it must be data use with a purpose for improvement, and second, that the capacity for data use MUST be collective for a sustainable difference.
On the first point, it is important to analyze and interpret school data with an improvement purpose in mind.
Collecting data for the sake of reporting that you are collecting data is a waste of time and resources. Analyzing data for the sake of reporting that you analyzed data is equally not useful and wasteful. It is important for educators to move beyond a number-crunching philosophy and towards a thinking process philosophy when it comes to school improvement and data. This means that when school staff are making their professional decisions, they seek out evidence to make sure that they are making the best possible decision for the benefit of the students. In schools where this is being done successfully, teachers and principals have some questions before they even consider the data. They decide which data to examine given those key questions. They analyze the data (or have it analyzed) so that the results will help them to answer their questions. Once they have some results in hand that are directly related to their questions, they can think about what those results mean in the classroom/school’s context.
When the interpretation of results is directly related to pedagogical practice, it is the most powerful part of this process. It is how teachers make sense of the results to direct instruction in their classrooms. This is the bridge from having data in a school to using data for school improvement. It is also – unfortunately – usually given the least attention in many schools because what is publically visible is not the internal work of teachers but the raw results.
On the second point, it is important to cultivate a collective capacity for data literacy in schools.
It is a fallacy that only the principal or the curriculum leader requires data literacy in a school. It is detrimental to the sustainability of school improvement when a single individual is relied upon to conduct the entire process – especially with a process that requires such a diversity of expertise and a widespread implementation. The success of assessment and evaluation for school improvement is rooted in cultivating an environment of data literacy.
We already have proof that schools that make use of data are more effective and improve more rapidly than ones that are not able to accomplish this process. In those successful schools, data is part of the fabric of school improvement because the school leaders are active in cultivating a data-rich environment which includes a system for interpreting and acting on information in schools. This means that teachers are becoming competent in using data as evidence on how to teach better. It is a collective effort that requires school-wide data literacy.