5 rules of using data in schools

Data rich but information poor
Backstory - number 1 son’s Year 8 parents evening tonight, which is always a bit of a challenge as a teacher myself. Just like Doctors make the worst patients, teachers make with worst parents on parents evening. So, dutifully warned by the wife to “wind my neck in" - off we set.
To be clear, this was a parents evening with his form tutor - not a subject session. Nevertheless….
Some background
  • The school that number 1 son attends puts the learners up for CATS testing in Year 7 - we know (because we asked) that his scores for all 3 tests (V, NV, Q) were 125+ - not too shabby.
  • We also know from the recent LNF testing here in Wales that both his Literacy & Numeracy scores are 120+ - again, proud parent mode.
  • Number 1 son has never missed a day or half day of school (unless he is truanting) and the only absences have been to represent county in sport (hockey andauthorizedby the school)
  • We (as teachers and to be honest as parents who can read what all this stuff means) know that he should be identified as MAT / G&T - or whatever the current phraseology is. Not being boastful, we have the data
Long story short:
  • We were told our son’s attendance was 98% - which can’t be right.
  • His end of Key Stage target for English was a Level 6 and his current level was a Level 6.
  • Maths, Science - target of 7, with current being 6
  • All other subjects - targets 6 or 7 - with current being 5/6
So we left with some unanswered question and a sense of frustration from my perspective both as a parent and blogger who bangs on about the use of data in schools.
MrGPG’s rules of using data in schools
Rule 1: Data is just a bunch of numbers and unless you’re going to do act upon it, it’s actually fairly meaningless numbers.
Son’s attendance of 98% should have led to a discussion over which subjects / registers he was marked absent for - it should be 100%.
Indeed it did - and we were told that “it was probably down to supply teachers not taking the registers" - OK, so the registers and the data is wrong then? We could not be shown the exact sessions which where marked absent as the tutor “did not have that data"
So, not enough data and the data you do have is wrong (unless he’s truanting - and that needs investigation)
Rule 2: It’s important that everyone knows (and agrees) what the numbers mean
We had previously been told that English did not give end of Key Stage levels, but that his Level 6 was instead an “end of year" target. The wider issue is that his report seems to contain data for “end of Key Stage" and “end of Year" targets, all in the same column, under the heading “End of Key Stage"
The tutor was confused over which subject quoted key stage and which quoted end of year. As a result, the data we were presented with was meaningless, as no one seemed to know what data represented what.
So, know what the numbers represent or they are to all intents and purposes - meaningless
Rule 3: Know what the implications of the numbers are
We were told that “as he’s a Level 6-, he’s almost attained his end of Key Stage target" - Really? At the start of Year 8, you’re telling me he’s almost achieved his target for the end of Year 9? And that’s a good thing? What are you doing about it?
For me, this one was the biggie - if a learner is achieving their aspirational target 1.5 years early, then clearly “well done" - but the implication is that the target is not high enough. (Let’s not add in that a level 6 target for a learner with such high CATS / LNF scores is clearly wrong - but more on that in a moment)
So, know the implications of the numbers and what comparing achievement to target actually shows
Rule 4: Baseline data is important
We knew what number 1 sons CATs scores were because we asked - the school does not publish that data. The LNF scores came directly to us. It was clear that neither set of data was available to the tutor.
Another biggie -How can you engage parents / learners with discussions about progress, targets and potential without a baseline of where that leaner is? Had the tutor had baseline data available, then discussion over levels and targets would have been more fruitful.
So, having immediate access to baseline data is important in understanding the learner in an holistic manner
Rule 5: Data is ony useful when transformed into information
Before our school stopped with CATS scores, I used to like plotting NV and V scores - to see which quadrant a leaner would sit in. From this data you could (a) get an immediate visualisation of a group, (b) see where group dynamics might be challenging (c) Identify groups of learners (GnT / SEN (both higher and lower SEN) (d) see if any learner "stood out" - for any reason:

Call to action:
  • How many of MrGPG’s 5 rules of using data in school do you “do"?

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