Learning First Alliance

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Data Driven Instruction

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Joshua Starr, who took the helm of Phi Delta Kappa International this summer, left a high-profile job as Superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., schools, where he had focused on accountability and high standards for the fast-growing and increasingly diverse 154,000-student district. While some were surprised that Dr. Starr did not seek another job as superintendent, he is now focusing his work on improving teaching and learning through systemic change at PDK International.

Dr. Starr also has worked as director of accountability for the New York City public schools and as superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., school district. Dr. Starr has a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College, and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin. His three children attend public schools in Montgomery County, and he began his career as a teacher working with adolescents with several emotional disabilities.

Dr. Starr recently spoke with the Learning First Alliance about his experience as a superintendent, the recent PDK/Gallup Annual poll, and his plans for the organization. ...

The Learning First Alliance brought together educators and representatives from national associations for the #CCSSData Twitter Town Hall on September 24, 2015. The chat followed a webinar, “Let’s Talk Data: What Common Core Test Results Tell Us About Teaching and Learning” held two days earlier.

Key themes that emerged from those conversations included:

  • Context is critical in communicating Common Core-aligned assessment data to teachers, parents and students. Assessment reports must be more than just a score. 

  • There are a host of great resources for teachers, parents and students around Common Core assessment data. Unfortunately these resources don’t always make it into the hands of those who need them most.

  • A host of organizations are creating resources and tools to help teachers, parents, and students interpret and use Common-Core data. The National PTA, Be a Learning Hero, the Data Quality Campaign, and the Teaching Channel all provide free resources. 


As testing data tied to high standards and Common Core State Standards comes to fruition in numerous states, the Learning First Alliance brought together a panel of national, state and local education leaders for a webinar to discuss how to use this new data to improve teaching and learning. The Sept. 22 event was part of LFA’s “Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core” national campaign.

The Common Core standards give researchers and educators an unprecedented opportunity to glean rich information and use that data to follow students over time and find ways to improve teaching and learning, said Aimee Guidera, president and CEO of the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign.

“Data needs to be at the beginning of the story, not the end, that’s the part of the conversation we need to reset,” she said.

Ms. Guidera noted numerous issues for educators to build their understanding of data and how it should impact their work: ...

By Maria Ferguson, Washington View Columnist, Kappan magazine (PDK International) and Executive Director, Center on Education Policy at George Washington University

Education research is a hot topic in Washington. I’m not talking “House of Cards” or “Scandal” hot but hot for education types who have been waiting a long time for Congress to take up any piece of education law. While other broad education legislation continues to await reauthorization, Congress has managed to make progress on behalf of education research. The Educational Sciences Research Act (ESRA) may not win a name recognition contest, but it is an important part of the nation’s education agenda nonetheless. The fact that a bipartisan bill to reauthorize ESRA (the Strengthening Education Through Research Act or SETRA) is making its way through the House and the Senate is not only a sign of hope that things can get done (whether they are done well is a topic for another column), it is also an acknowledgement that education research is not something any of us should take for granted.

My organization, the Center on Education Policy (CEP), has both hosted and participated in many conversations about the role research plays in education policy and practice. Focusing tightly on education policy while being housed within a university, we are acutely aware that policy makers view research through a completely different lens than education researchers. Policy makers tend to lead with policy and then look to research to validate their decision making. While this may not seem to be the best way to address education issues, we must be aware that the political nature of education — especially at the federal level — almost demands this kind of leap-before-you-look approach ...

By Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)

The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance. ...

Given all the debates in education policy today, one might assume that education research is a valuable tool in guiding outcomes and decisions. Unfortunately, this assumption is incomplete because although research is often valued and held up to justify decisions, the research does not necessarily inform the decision making process. There are any number of reasons for that, from the flow of information to the actors involved in the policy changes.

In a recent book Using Research-Based Evidence in Education, Kara Finnigan and Alan Daly –along with other contributors- take a closer look at how evidence research is acquired, defined, moved, interpreted and shaped at different levels in education: federal, state, district and school. In a recent American Youth Policy Forum webinar, they highlighted three major themes that emerged: ...

By Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Founder and Executive Director, Data Quality Campaign

This article will also appear on The Huffington Post.

“My child is not a number!”

In the era of so-called big data in education, you’re likely to hear this refrain. Education data are, after all, mostly numbers. (I would argue that more anecdotal information—such as classroom observations—should also be considered part of a full picture of student “data,” but that’s a whole blog post in itself.) No child’s experiences can be reduced to a set of numbers on a spreadsheet, and no data policy should be about limiting a student’s options or reducing her experience. On the contrary: effective data use should expand a child’s horizons by providing more information about individual students to help guide the people making decisions about their learning—parents and educators. ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Once upon a time, we were challenged to find useful data about education. Not much information was collected, and it was largely inaccessible. In recent years, as public demands for greater transparency and evidence-based accountability have generated an information frenzy, we still face this challenge—but not because data are scant. Now they are overabundant, often difficult to decipher, or of unreliable quality. In this new environment, we must prepare teachers and other education leaders to be not only data literate, but also advocates for effective data use by others.

Researchers and education leaders must take responsibility for helping PK-12 practitioners and other decision makers interpret the data being generated by districts, states, think tanks, research and policy organizations, schools themselves, and a multitude of other sources—often with set agendas that taint the evidence. Too often, unscrupulous data collection and usage leads to antagonistic distractions, bad press, and worse policy decisions ...

By Jack Dale, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Since the year 2000, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) available to countries around the world. In 2012, 65 countries participated in the once every three year cycle of PISA.  Each three year cycle emphasizes one of three content areas – Math, Science and Reading. In 2012 the emphasis was on Math. In 2015 the emphasis will be on Science.

Beginning this school year, individual schools across America are able to participate in the school-based version called OECD Test for Schools. Participating schools will have a random sample of 15-year olds selected to take part in a matrix sampling of test prompts covering all three content areas.

Questions now before schools and districts are: What kind of results would we get? What are implications for school/district policies and practices? Can this assessment better help us prepare students for needed 21st Century ...

Each month during the 2014 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance will be highlighting our members’ expertise and resources around the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This month, we spoke to a team of individuals at Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) to showcase professional learning and its critical role in helping teachers across the country transition to teaching in new and different ways to meet the new standards.

Professional learning has always been an integral component of strong learning systems, allowing teachers to grow and evolve their methods of instruction in response to student learning. It also allows teachers to use student data to guide their practice. Strong professional learning practices guide the implementation of any standards and changes in classrooms, and in light of the rapid rollout of Common Core, they will, once again, be essential. Learn more about professional learning and how it supports teachers and students alike by reading our conversation with Learning Forward Senior Consultant Joellen Killion. Special thanks to Dale Hair, Victoria Duff and Deborah Childs-Bowen from Learning Forward for their expertise in developing the interview content and structure.

Public Schools Insights (PSI): What does the general public need to know about professional learning and its role in implementing the Common Core State Standards or other learning initiatives?

Joellen Killion: Professional learning is the means for developing and expanding educators’ knowledge, skills, and practices. Because the new content standards increase expectations for students both in terms of depth of content and application of content, educators need to refine their instructional practices to ensure that all students achieve the standards and leave school college and career ready. Any new initiative, such as Common Core, a new evaluation system, or any other reform, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it. Professional learning is the primary strategy available to every school to support continuous educator development. Yet not all ...

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