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Data-Informed Practice: It’s Not Just About Test Scores (Part 5: I’m Talking to You, Policymakers)

I’ve spent this blog series talking about possible solutions to the problem of test-focused data use: common understandings, computer data systems, and data-related professional learning. I like these ideas and if they were implemented, I think a lot would change. We really need to find a way to do this whole data use thing better.

Ideas like this are workable. I’m not saying this kind of change is easy, but it’s workable – a lot of us have written about very doable things that could support changes like this.

I’ll be honest with you, though: I’m not particularly optimistic changes such as these will be widespread in the near (or even not-that-near) future. The test-score approach to data use is firmly entrenched in school culture, and the event-based approach I complained about in Part 1 is a fairly easy way to check the “we use data” box.

I don’t think better data use happens in any widespread fashion without an intentional shift in perspective from the top. The key word is “intentional.” That is, state and district policymakers will need to explicitly adopt a perspective I’ve described here. Through their actions, structures, policies, and words, they’ll need to say that “data” is not a thing we do, it supports the work we do. Further, they’ll have to say that any use of data and information will happen in the course of our everyday work, just as it did before “data” was a thing.

I think state and federal policy would be key. Our current policies…well, let’s put it this way: it’s goofy (technical term) to tell a principal not to focus on state tests when we’re going to judge her/him publicly on state tests. I’m especially intrigued by this – if I were still teaching my “Policy Issues in Data-Based Decision-Making,” we’d have a ready-made project.

Thus endeth the blog series on data-informed practice. More on another data-related topic soon! Thanks for reading.

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