Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Data-informed? Or Data-Driven?

This has especially been on my mind over the last day or so. I have used the term "data-informed" over "data-driven" for a very long time. I believe that TEACHERS are the only ones who actually "drive" the instruction in their classrooms....data informs their work, as does myriad other things that they use to make every decision for every minute of every day in their classrooms. Yes, data plays a big part in that. But does it actually "drive" it?

When I first started working here in Harlem, I made a point of talking about being data-informed rather than data-driven. I've actually worked  hard to empower teachers to know that they are the "drivers" in their classrooms, and to change the way we talk about data.

However, I recently met with a principal who really insists on using "data-driven". In fact, he uses "driven" a lot. Assessment "drives" instruction. Data "drives" instruction. He refuses to hear what I say about teachers being the drivers. It's kind of "driving" me crazy.

Maybe it is just semantics, and I'm overthinking it. But data is just data. Just numbers. They don't mean anything without context and interpretation. So a number like 67 doesn't really mean anything unless there is something else around it, providing context. If you have 67% of your students "meeting standards" on an accountability test, you are below the benchmark for this year (92.5%). However, if you had 48% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE improvement. If you had 82% "meeting standards" last year, you have made a HUGE drop. One way means keep doing what you are doing. The other means you need to make some changes. Who/what "drives" that decision? The 67? Or the interpretation of that data by people/experts?

If it's 67 degrees in Chicago in January, it's WARM!!! If it's 67 degrees in Florida in July, it's COLD!! But the air temperature is the same. You'd take off a jacket in Chicago, but you'd put on a sweatshirt in Florida. Your interpretation of the data is what drives you to make a change. You make decisions based on your context, your knowledge of the situation as well as using the data you have.

See, the NUMBERS aren't driving anything. It's the people that have the knowledge behind the numbers that are doing the driving.

So that's why I'm a stickler about the words. Teachers are the expert drivers. They take the data and make sense of it and determine the best instructional steps based on the data....and on their own knowledge and expertise.

I'd much rather have my instruction driven by an informed teacher than by a spreadsheet.

**Definition of drive, according to Merriam-Webster.com
5a: to exert inescapable or coercive pressure on : force <driven by his passions> b: to compel to undergo or suffer a change (as in situation or emotional state) <drove him crazy> <drove her out of business> c: to urge relentlessly to continuous exertion <the sergeant drove his recruits> d: to press or force into an activity, course, or direction <the drug habit drives addicts to steal> e: to project, inject, or impress incisively <drove her point home>
6: to force (a passage) by pressing or digging
8: to give shape or impulse to <factors that drive the business cycle> <the ideas that have driven history>


  1. Hi Margo,
    Thought provoking posts thus far on your blog. I really liked the comment on the first post about losing a day of pay if grades were late. Funny! I can imagine the howls of protest that would accompany that!

    Good luck on the doctoral program. How on earth do you find the time?

    Lynette (posting under my "blogger" name)

  2. Thank you, Lynette!! (LOVE the blogger name!!)

    Gotta do something now that I'm an "empty nester" ;-).

    Yeah, no one really likes that comparison, but yet in real (work) life, everyone occasionally misses a deadline, forgets a pencil, etc., and they are not usually penalized.

    Hope you are having a great summer! Do you have your own blog? I'd love to follow if you do!!


    1. Yep, click on my user name and it should take you to my information. I started blogging last year when my main editing client outsourced all the editing to software. :( Replaced by a machine! I felt like I needed some kind of creative outlet.

  3. I agree Margo! I'm so glad that you are able to make a change with that notion in your district. . . even if it requires repeated attempts with some folks!

  4. Well, you know what they say about learning... multiple repetitions!! :-)