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Do district-wide data meetings help principals and district leaders improve student learning?

It’s a common understanding that to improve learning, students must be held accountable for their work. And we hold students accountable by examining/analyzing their work, providing feedback/focused interventions/additional time and support, and insisting students redo their work when it is not to standard. So, too, should adults—specifically, teacher teams as well as principals and district office leaders—be held accountable for their work that is connected to improving student learning.

A number of districts require principals to bring student learning data to monthly data meetings. These districts hold the principals accountable for data that is accurate, informing instruction, and being used to guide and design student interventions and enrichment. For example, one district recently reviewed district-wide data from a 3rd grade Unit 5 math assessment.  Each principal shared his or her student data related to the following standards:
  • 3.1.C Fluently and accurately add and subtract whole numbers (up to 4 digit) using the standard regrouping algorithms.
  • 3.1.D Estimate sums and differences to approximate solutions to problems to determine reasonable answers.
  • 3.1.E Solve single and multi-step word problems involving addition and subtraction of whole numbers.
In the data meeting, each principal was asked to:
  • Share the areas/standards where students did well on the assessment.
  • Identify the instructional strategies that helped students do well.
  • Identify skill deficiencies of students.
But, here’s the most important aspect of the meeting:  each principal shared in detail what their third grade team did to provide students additional time and support for students not meeting the standard.  Principals also shared their plans for extending and enriching the learning of students who demonstrated proficiency.
Because of the deep, rich, and collaborative discussions regarding the learning levels of their students, skill by skill, principals were able to learn from each other and then share their new insights with their third grade team when they returned to their schools.
One principal commented,
“I only have two 3rd grade teachers collaborating about meeting the needs of our students. After this meeting, I can go back and share with my teachers the specific instructional strategies and intervention ideas from four buildings and fourteen teachers that teach 3rd grade! The strength of these meeting is that we learn from each other to help get more kids to learn more across the district.”
Another principal remarked that,
“The district-wide data meetings provide me with a context about how my students are doing.  For example, before our last meeting I knew how my 3rd graders were doing, but until we had our district-wide data meeting I did not know how they were doing compared to the 3rd graders at the other schools in the district.”
Because of the district-wide data meetings principals and district leaders can, at a glance, see how all 3rd grade students are performing on the essential standards in Unit 5.
In short, district-wide data meetings are helpful to principals and district leaders for a number of reasons.  They assist district leaders and principals to:
  • To ensure that each school and team across the district is crystal clear about what is essential for our students to learn unit by unit.
  • To collaboratively address the question, “Are the students learning, and what are their areas of strength and weakness?”
  • To work as a system to  increase specificity and precision regarding providing additional time, support and enrichment.
  • To reflect, share, and learn from each other, school to school, regarding professional practices—especially instructional practices.
  • To model the behavior that is expected of teacher teams throughout the district.
Because principals are held accountable in district-wide data meetings for collaborative data analysis and improvement of student learning, they are in a better position for holding teacher teams within their individual schools accountable for their data.  However, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that collaborative analysis of data is not about merely filling out spreadsheets, or making graphs.  The district-wide data meetings enable principals and district leaders to add meaning to data—to help create an understanding of exactly where students have lost their way, and make plans for getting them back on track.  Also, it is about collaboratively developing plans for extending and enriching the learning levels of students who demonstrate proficiency.  In other words, collaboratively sharing and analyzing learning data in district-wide data meetings is about enhancing the learning of all students, skill by skill — in every classroom, on every team, and in every school across the district.

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