Vignette #1 – A group of middle school teachers gathers together to discuss how they can more effectively share and talk about student data with families.
Convinced that how she shares feedback with students and their families impacts student improvement, seventh grade history teacher Myra Katz longs for occasions to discuss best strategies with her colleagues. When she comes across a newly created document from the Harvard Family Research Project: “Tips for Teachers: How to Share Data Effectively,” she seizes the opportunity to gather colleagues for a needed discussion on how their school provides feedback to students and parents. Grounded by this helpful document that she sends out to her middle school team two weeks prior to the meeting, Myra is hopeful that her colleagues will use the tips as a springboard to reflect on what is working well for their students and families, and what needs improvement. She also hopes that the discussion will help deepen her own understanding of how to make feedback on student data more meaningful. The seemingly simple tips from the article inspire thought provoking and practice changing ideas from the teachers. After an introductory brainstorming activity which encourages the teachers to articulate the compendium that comprises “data” – from grades to student preparedness, Myra raises a bullet point for discussion- how to determine which data are best discussed in a personal meeting, which data can be shared during a phone conversation, and which data can simply be posted online. Although the teachers readily agree on various measures that could be posted online (grades, test scores, attendance) and those that are better served with a personal connection (behavioral and learning issue feedback), they are surprised by a conversation that reveals the complexity involved in sharing information with students and parents. While many agree that the best means of sharing data often depends upon the particular student and family, the discussion pushes them to think deeply about ways to best reach all students and their families.
An experienced eighth grade teacher raises another bullet point for consideration: How often do we “Focus conversations on the potential for growth and improvement. Use the students’ progress data to co-develop an action plan for growth, and discuss the specific roles that the teacher, the parent, and the student will play in achieving goals.” The teachers have much to share as many agree that too much emphasis is often placed on assessment as a measure of success or failure (often in students’ minds), without enough energy focused on how to specifically use the data to inspire conversations around improvement. Myra proposes instituting “mini-meetings” with students at the conclusion of every six-week unit as a way of providing a connecting space for students, teachers (and possibly parents) to reflect on a body of work and use these “take-aways” to guide goals for growth in the next unit of study. Students would prepare for these meetings by responding to their work and to the feedback that their teachers provide along the way (in a questionnaire template created by the teacher), thus becoming active participants in setting future learning goals. The teachers agree that the materials generated from these meetings would be shared with parents, who would then have the chance to sign these fluid “learning contracts” and contribute comments/questions of their own.
With ideas flowing, the teachers discuss how to give families more of a voice in discussions around student data. They also talk about ways that they can provide access to resources that could be helpful to families. With so much to consider, Myra proposes additional meetings where the teachers can gather together to reflect upon their current practices in sharing data with students and families, strategies they would like to experiment with, and how they can ultimately use data to strengthen family-school partnerships and improve student learning.
- From the Harvard Family Research Project, these helpful tip sheets on “How to Share Data Effectively” provide succinct sections for administrators, teachers, and families. In addition to providing examples of effective data-sharing practices, the tips for teachers offer bullet points on how to talk with families about student data and how to best prepare to share data with families.
- From NCTE, this lesson plan idea for “Involving Students and Families in Ongoing Reflection and Assessment” offers tips for families, a weekly progress form, and a hand out for the “Student-Family-Teacher Conference.” It provides ideas and structures that support a partnership with families over student writing. Families have the opportunity to respond to student self-assessments that then become the basis for discussion during later conferences.