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CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

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Meeting Paper

Improving Teachers' Use of Student Data: The Influence of America's Choice and Success for All

A central tenet in this era of "new accountability" and standards-based reform is that educators, armed with data on student outcomes, will make better, more informed decisions that will improve instruction and student achievement (Fuhrman 1999; Elmore and Rothman 1999). At the same time, a growing body of research was showing that sound assessment practices could actually be used in the classroom to improve student learning (Black and Wiliam 1998), findings which further kindled interest. And yet the research on educators' actual use of student performance data for instructional improvement suggests a mixed picture, at best, with reformers' aspirations for comprehensive and continuous reflection an often-elusive goal in practice (Simmons and Resnick, 1993; Massell, 2001; Firestone, Monfils, Camilli, Schorr, Hicks, and Mayrowetz, 1999; McNeil, 2000; Ingram, Louis and Shroeder, 2004).

Under this new institutional logic, schools have been saturated with student performance data and an intense pressure to respond. It was not always so. Thirty to forty years ago, performance data was typically collected to satisfy bureaucratic rules and regulations or signal accountability for larger shares of state funding, but then quickly shuffled out of public view (David, 1978). Indeed, even publicly displaying any systemlevel performance data could launch a firestorm of opposition, at it did when the Reagan Administration decided to publish the "Wall Chart" of state-by-state performance on college admissions tests (Boyd, 1987).

Beginning in the late 1980s, states adopted accountability regimes with strong sanctions and rewards designed to motivate educators to attend to school-level performance outcomes. The interest in data as a central lever for improvement has continued unabated since then, with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 increasing testing and amplifying accountability calculations and sanctions beyond what most states had required. By 2006, two-thirds of the states had developed interactive data systems (Education Week 2006), and a growing number of states and districts are providing incentives and resources for schools to use formative assessments (e.g., Gallagher and Worth, 2008).

Educators have scrambled to respond to these new pressures, and have increasingly sought to use data to adjust district, school and classroom practice (Massell 2001). But the "feedback control loop" (Sadler 1989) between student performance data and educational decision-making often remains tenuous, even in schools with a strong reputation for data use (Ingram et al. 2004).

Publication Date

January 2009