Thursday, January 15, 2015

Driven by Data: Paul Bambrick-Santoyo's Model

In his books Driven by Data and Leverage Leadership, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo describes a model for facilitating effective teaching and using a focus on data-driven instruction to build effective schools.

Bambrick-Santoyo has a remarkable track record of turning around poor schools. His strategies don't require any fancy technology (though I think technology could help), but they do require that teachers and administrators break from some old ways of thinking.

At its core, Data-Driven Instruction (DDI) relies on believing that assessments are worthy goals. Many educators who hate these tests spit out the phrase "teaching to the test" as if it were an epithet. The negative attitude towards standardized tests is understandable. For many schools, end-of-year assessments are painful autopsies that expose their students' and teachers' deficiencies when measured by a meter stick that has little to do with what went on all year.

It doesn't have to be this way.

1) State standards for K-12 are getting better. I don't want to wade too far into the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) battles, but what I think many educators can agree on is that most states have created better standards over the past couple decades. Coherent curricula matter, and CCSS has made people pay attention to this. The standards are not a curriculum, but when standards are focused and well-organized, they can help schools develop coherent curricula.

2) More states are adopting end-of-year assessments that don't suck. This is critical. As states adopt higher-quality assessments to measure how students do against their better standards, teaching to the test isn't such a bad thing. Teaching to the sort of assessment I took in school (nothing but multiple choice questions with low cognitive demand) would be criminal. As assessments become much more sophisticated and include constructed response, technology-enhanced items, and even performance tasks, teaching to these new assessments shouldn't be so repugnant. According to a RAND study, these new assessments can lead to better instruction, but only if (among other things):
  • they are part of an integrated assessment system that includes formative and summative components and
  • the new assessments are a component of a broader systemic reform effort.
3) If the standards are better and the tests are better, then having teachers use benchmark tests (Bambrick-Santoyo calls them Interim Assessments) to see where their students are can be incredibly powerful. This isn't about having every school day be all about assessment. This is about mapping out a plan for how your students will get to the finish line and then checking at a few points along the way to see how you (the teacher) and the students are doing. This isn't about giving each student a number. It's about understanding what they do and don't know and what the teacher needs to do differently to help them make progress.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy either way: Teachers who fight the test will have students who struggle on the autopsy. Teachers and schools who find ways to improve the instructional processes with the assessments in mind have a better chance of reaping great rewards for their students.

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