It Takes a Team to Manage Middle-Level Data

Data won’t be a dirty word if educators can collaborate on giving it meaning.

Topics: Education Data, Middle Level

Educators have data coming out of their ears. For many, “data” is practically a swearword. Reactions include audible sighs: “Again?” The person’s head might sink into their chest, their eyes might widen in fear of what’s to come, or they might give a flawless eye roll in anticipation of time being wasted. Educator mindsets are slowly changing, as the benefits of using data to drive instruction reveal themselves.

Data is critical for students, educators, schools, districts, and states for many reasons. Funding, interventions, instructional decisions, content mastery, change initiatives, staff evaluations, and community pride might hinge on the data a school produces. And although data is critical, it’s often misunderstood.

If one goes to the emergency room with a knee injury, an X-ray will often be taken. If imaging doesn’t show a reason for the pain and the individual continues to suffer, they will usually go to an orthopedic doctor and perhaps get an MRI. The progression of medical expertise and testing provides different information to help solve for the problem.

The education system, like the medical field, has different assessments that provide a variety of information. All data can tell a story. The question is: Which data significantly impacts student, staff, and school success more than others?

Middle School Structure

The way in which middle school carved out its own identity is similar to the development process that middle school students experience. In the 1960s, William Alexander brought attention to the concept and the different needs of sixth to eighth grade students.

Teaming practices are one of the critical characteristics of the middle school philosophy. One structure is an interdisciplinary team of teachers who share the same group of students and collaborate to support student needs. They work together to analyze data and problem-solve to increase the success of their students academically, behaviorally, and socially.

The number of adults who are directly responsible for a student’s learning changes as students move from kindergarten to grade 12. K–5 students typically have one primary teacher, and those teachers typically have fewer than 30 students in their class. In middle school, students might have up to eight teachers they interact with daily, and the teachers might see up to 300 students every day. The sheer quantity of data those numbers produce makes it difficult to create a realistic plan for the successful use of data.

Teaming is where using data to drive instruction comes together. Continuous improvement is critical for middle school success, Hanover Research says, and one of the keys to continuous improvement is grounding decisions in data. Data helps teams identify individual students and small groups of students with similar needs, as well as create and put in place action steps to meet the students’ needs.

Scheduling Team Time

For teams to be successful, they need to meet frequently. Middle school teams need to get together at least weekly, and the school’s schedule needs to make that happen. Matthew Burns, an expert on implementing systems for interventions, says not every team meeting needs to focus on data, but one should at least monthly.

Common planning time and intervention blocks or flex time give “teachers more time with students who need additional support or opportunities for extension activities; they give students access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have without staying after school; and they give students something to look forward to during the school day,” according to Edficiency.

This doesn’t mean students won’t experience differentiation during the rest of the school day, but this time is more focused. Middle school intervention blocks might be “schoolwide, sequential course selections, embedded in a quarterly/semester/yearlong format and student-​specific. Each type of intervention protocol should be student-centered and student-​focused to address the needs of each student,” says Josh McLaurin, author of the Principal’s Playbook blog.

A platform that holds all of the data and permits easy navigation, review, and manipulation reduces the fear of being overwhelmed by data, lessening the “venom spewed over the word ‘data,’ ” says Julia Daniels Davis in “Most Teachers Hate Data: Here’s Why.”

As educators, we want our students to be successful. For this to occur, data must be welcomed, not feared. Middle school teams need to work collaboratively to understand the stories data reveals and implement changes to increase student success. Most importantly, a culture of continuous growth and teamwork must be lived daily.

Katy Kennedy is principal of Washington Middle School in Glendive, Montana.