Harvard Educational Review
  1. Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning

    edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett, Elizabeth A. City, and Richard J. Murnane

    Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2005. 250 pp. $29.95.

    The recent focus on accountability and high-stakes testing has increased pressure on educators to get results. The No Child Left Behind Act requires annual testing in grades 3–8 and codifies consequences for schools and districts that fail to demonstrate that students are progressing toward proficiency as determined by end-of-year assessments. Along with the increase in required testing comes data that can, at times, be overwhelming for administrators and teachers, creating a disconnect between two seemingly complimentary priorities: (1) the federal government’s desire to prod states and districts to ensure high levels of student achievement, and (2) the more immediate needs for teachers, schools, and districts to determine where student weaknesses lie and how to address them. There are, however, movements afoot to help teachers and schools make sense of the new top-down requirements and at the same time give them the tools to improve student achievement. Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning represents one such promising tool. Examining test results can also help districts and schools focus on areas of student weakness and improve professional development and instruction. To that end, Data Wise aims to be a resource to aid administrators and teachers in making sense of the resulting data. Moreover, this book is intended to be used by practitioners, academics, test developers, and policymakers alike. In the introduction, the editors suggest how different audiences can make use of Data Wise, encouraging readers to skip around and to consult its protocols and further readings. The editors acknowledge that while teachers recognize the need to learn more about assessments, they lack adequate support and training in assessment analysis and data interpretation. Boudett, City, and Murnane aim to provide school and district personnel with the means to analyze the immense amount of data being collected and returned, and to use the data to focus professional development and plan informed instructional strategies.

    Additionally, this book represents a unique but ever more necessary partnership between schools of education and school-based practitioners. Data Wise includes chapters produced by joint ventures between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Boston Public Schools, including chapters written by two other Harvard professors with expertise in assessment and statistics, ten Harvard doctoral students with school-based working experiences, and five Boston educators. It was born out of a yearlong workshop developed by editor and Harvard economist Richard Murnane that was designed to bridge the gap between practitioners and academicians. Through this workshop, Harvard graduate students and Boston educators worked together in school-based teams with the intent of examining data to improve instruction and student learning. A subgroup of participants later began discussing how they could bring their knowledge to a broader audience.

    The editors employed a number of techniques to make the book user friendly. First, the introduction relays possible ways to read and use the book as a resource rather than a traditional text. Second, to supplement their guide and to bring alive their suggestions, the authors weave in case study vignettes throughout the book. These vignettes provide examples of how to organize meetings to discuss the data and engage school staff in analyzing it, as well as highlighting potential obstacles. Third, the authors provide what they refer to as the “Data Wise Improvement Process” visual model. This process consists of eight steps that school leaders can follow to use student assessment data effectively. The eight activities fall into three categories — Prepare, Inquire, and Act — that represent an iterative process: Once you get to the end of the cycle you repeat your inquiry from the first step, this time going deeper into the work of data analysis. Finally, the book offers a practical section that includes additional resources for teachers, schools, and administrators, including support for districts, selected protocols to aid in the discussion of data, and further reading. The additional reading is designed “for those who would like additional support in their efforts to use student data to improve learning and teaching,” and includes general resources that are geared toward all phases of improvement and resources that align with the main phases of the improvement process.

    Data Wise reads as a strong tool to support examining large-scale test results as well as classroom data. It guides school- and district-based staff in having important conversations about student strengths and weaknesses and how to teach to them. Using this book as a guide will help schools identify challenges, foster collaboration among staff members, and improve schools’ overall culture.

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    Book Notes