Becoming a Data Champion – Part 3
(Looking for Part 1 and 2? Find them here!)
Welcome back! Hopefully, you got through the madness of March just fine and you’re ready to jump in for another data tip. The tip this month is inspired by one of the great founding fathers of the United States – Benjamin Franklin. Why? you may ask. Because he’s the one who coined the phrase “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and using data effectively” (O.K. the part about data may have been my own prophecy, but after these tips, I hope this also holds true). Anyways, as tax season draws to a close, I hope this tip helps you and your team save a few Benjamins.
Once you have identified which data needs to be collected, in what manner as well as made sure everyone is clear on what the data means, it is time to go out and collect your data. Just like in our last tip, it helps to have everyone on the same page about who will be collecting which data when, and how. You could imagine the confusion and disappointment that might have occurred if during your spring break vacation one person planned to go to the beach, another to an amusement park, and another to a baseball game all on the same day at the same time when you only had one vehicle. Much like planning an itinerary for an upcoming trip, it is important to have a data itinerary or management plan in place before the year begins. Included in a data management plan would be things such as the type of data collected; who will collect it; when and how the data will be collected; where the data will be stored; how it will be analyzed; when it will be reported; as well as some tips for maintaining data quality. An example of a data management plan for one specific type of data is included below (just copy and paste multiple rows for each type of data you collect).
Once you have established your data management plan (and followed it as flawlessly as possible), it is important that the data does not just sit there gathering dust. Indeed, among the WORST data is data collected for no purpose or is not acted upon (outside of inaccurate data or data that is misrepresentative of what is intended to be measured). This brings us to our next tip:
Tip #3. Analyze the data in a timely manner
Being timely is a skill which benefits many facets of life. We all know how frustrating it is to buy groceries and then have someone call you to pick up an additional item after you have already checked out, or if someone proposes a dinner idea but you don’t have the ingredients at home. Indeed, timeliness in each of these scenarios could prevent a lot of frustration and time spent backtracking. To put this to another example, if one of the baseball players on your team has struggled to hit against left-handed pitchers and your team will be facing a team with a pitcher that throws left-handed, it would be wise to replace that player in the batting order with someone who has had better success hitting against left-handed pitchers. However, if you waited until the end of the season to analyze your team’s stats from previous games, you might not be aware of this weakness in your lineup and play the struggling player – which could subsequently hurt your team’s chances of winning the game.
Much like the baseball and grocery examples above, this tip also works in the field of education. For example, if a teacher was not timely in analyzing their students’ test scores at the end of a unit on fractions, they may not realize that many students struggled with the concept of the addition of fractions. As the teacher moves on to the next unit on multiplication and division of fractions – a topic which the teacher notices many students struggling in – they may not be aware that many students are struggling due to their lack of mastery in the addition of fractions.
Analyzing data in a timely manner is a crucial practice, especially when it comes to formative assessment and making changes in instructional practice. The quicker the data can be analyzed and communicated out, the quicker educators and other staff members will be able to respond to the data and adapt their instruction or support. Similar to the importance of providing formative feedback to students, analyzing data in a timely manner can also be an excellent way for educators to assess their own practice. Taking it back to the fractions example, had the teacher realized that the entire class struggled with adding fractions, the teacher may have been able to reflect on their practice to identify which parts of the lesson could be improved/revised. This could allow the teacher to seek out alternative or additional activities or lessons to further increase students’ comprehension. For this teacher, analyzing data in a timely manner could have left them saying, “I’m glad I caught these students when I did,” instead of, “If I had known this earlier I would have taught this way differently.” Much like the old adage, “Hindsight is 20:20,” prevents yourself from putting your team (or students) in a bad situation by being timely with the data you collect and analyze.