It’s not very often in the world of education that you hear statements like this one from Diane Ravitch:

“It makes me want to throw up. The White House’s obsession with data is sick.”

Pretty powerful words.   

And pretty antithetical to what we are used to hearing in our data-driven educational environment.  It raises an interesting question:  Has our obsession with data been a good thing?  

Yes and no.  

The principle behind using data can be expressed by this great analogy from McTighe & O’Connor:

“Like successful athletic coaches, the best teachers recognize the importance of ongoing assessments and continual adjustments on the part of both teacher and student as the means to achieve maximum performance.”


When using data becomes divorced from this purpose, that’s when we get in trouble.  


In 2008 University of California/Berkeley researcher Judith Warren Little found that often data conversations in schools moved away from their intended goal of discussing the instructional implications of data.  That may be the result of lack of clarity for the purpose of data.  In schools that were unsuccessful in using data leaders were vague about the goal of  teachers looking at data whereas in successful schools leaders set a clear purpose for data work, teachers met more often, there was student reading and writing data on the table, and the focus was on how specific teaching practices enhanced or inhibited student gains.


Just looking at data isn’t enough; leaders and teachers need a clear understanding of the why, how and what of data before launching in .  

Thinking about beefing up your use of data?  Keep in mind these important factors from St. John’s University professor Michael Donhost:

  • Time – Teachers need scheduled blocks of time to analyze and follow up on assessment information.

  • Teams – Interim assessment analysis and follow-up works most effectively when it’s done in grade-level or course teams.

  • Trust – For teams to work effectively, there must be a common vision, an orientation toward continuous improvement, and trust that the data won’t be used in a punitive fashion.