Last week I attended a work day for the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI). The University of Minnesota is one of 14 partner higher education institutions, called the Network for Excellence in Teaching (NExT), working with the Bush Foundation to improve student achievement and increase teacher effectiveness in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. TERI, the University's NExT workgroup is comprised of University faculty and staff, and several representatives from the their P-12 partner school districts
This work day’s agenda was dedicated to building the TERI Partner Network and creating a shared culture of evidence in teaching and ongoing program improvement practices. This requires understanding and using education data, which our higher-education partners are discovering is a powerful tool for developing informed approaches to improving student achievement and teacher effectiveness. During the day, we heard from a team of University researchers about four ongoing research projects in TERI related to teacher identity development, developing partnerships between universities and schools, the design of feedback in supervisory relationships, and capturing the professional cultures of schools. We also saw data related to the CEHD teacher candidate admission and enrollment over the past three years and engaged in conversations about how this data will help drive ongoing recruitment efforts within the TERI Partnership Network.
Special guests in the room were a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who, as part of the Bush Foundation’s Educational Achievement Initiative, have been working with school districts from across North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota to tie student performance to teachers, and to our higher-education partner universities where they received their training. They are experts in working with value-added methods, which are a way to use student assessment data and other factors to measure the contributions teachers and schools make toward student achievement.
While presenting to the group, the researchers explained how value-added assessment works (using a wonderful oak tree growth analogy) and how to understand and get the most from the individual reports prepared for each partner district. Then they sat down individually at tables with teams of school district representatives, together with University of Minnesota attendees, to view the reports on laptops. I was able to observe as one of the researchers, Jeff Watson, sat with teachers and administrators from White Bear Lake Area Schools and trained them how to interpret data in their report. I could tell the P-12 representatives were especially curious and excited to see how they had performed.
“The value-added data allows us to have a more thoughtful conversation about what’s working and what’s not,” said Mary McGrane, assessment and accountability coordinator at White Bear Lake Area Schools, as she provided some context to her colleagues.
Barb Bliss, a fifth-grade teacher at Vadnais Heights Elementary School, added, “As a teacher who wants to continually find ways to grow and improve, I want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our students.”
Watson was pleased to hear reactions like these, as he believes there is great potential for schools to use value-added data. “School districts will be able to see a more complete picture of where student learning—as measured by the state tests—is occurring at faster rates. At the classroom level, they can start to recognize where excellence is occurring and where additional resources may be needed,” he said.
Watson noted that the higher ed institutions will benefit from this data too. “Value-added output will provide universities with a notion of how their graduates do relative to other new teachers in the state. This information will be very new for them, and should open many conversations around the need for improvement. Additionally, it will lead them to ask how do we improve? and what are the causes for our value-added scores?”
The NExT initiative is driven by a network of education professionals who are deeply committed to ensuring our teachers have the training and support they need for 21st-century learners. With resources like value-added assessment data, school districts and universities who train their teachers will have another set of tools to use to better understand how to work toward closing the achievement gap.
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