Data the Ditch Driver

Jay's Seeds

This is a third grader’s response to a recent assessment. This is data, but unfortunately not the type of data we tend to see on “data walls” and in “war rooms.”

Data comes in both quantitative and qualitative forms. In our field, we are quite familiar with quantitative data. We use data dashboards, and deep dives, and drill downs so that data can drive everything we do. But if we only use quantitative data when analyzing the performance of human beings, then data can drive us into a ditch.

Quantitative data measures attributes and properties while qualitative characterizes them. Quantitative data defines while qualitative describes.  Among other things, analysis of qualitative data can help to accomplish the following:

  • Determine students’ intentions to explain causal relationships
  • Empathize with students to gain understanding of their perspectives
  • Make holistic observations of the total context (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2006, p. 25)

Quantitative data is easier to analyze and manipulate because they are numerical. Qualitative data, on the other hand, is more challenging to analyze because they require you to seek out and generate accurate descriptions of what students think and feel. But qualitative data, when analyzed with quantitative data, tells a more complete story, and perhaps provides the opportunity for a more successful “drive.”

A cursory review of the student sample above can lead one to conclude that the student didn’t understand the problem; however, a more holistic analysis reveals some level of understanding. Without a holistic analysis a teacher can dive immediately into “reteach” mode without uncovering the real gaps in understanding.  (The Core Deconstructed can help you uncover gaps in understanding.)

Determining that the student did not master the standard is not enough. An understanding of how s/he processed the problem is necessary. This type of data analysis takes more time, but yields more substantive solutions. So here’s my question to you as a professional in the field of education: how are you using qualitative data to inform your data-driven decisions?



Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P. & Borg, W. R. (2006). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). NY: Allyn and Bacon.


Value Creation: Focus Your Lens

Have you seen or experienced this? A group of educators conduct a class visit either for evaluative or peer-coaching purposes and the feedback generated after the event is scattered because of a vague focus or varying expectations.

Last week I was asked to serve as a guest lecturer for a class of aspiring and practicing school administrators on instructional rounds at George Washington University. I was asked to share how The Core Deconstructed (TCD) could be used with rounds. Given that I prefer to facilitate learning as opposed to lecture, I created an environment for a partially simulated instructional round.

Instructional rounds are great because they allow for thoughtful reflection on key work processes. To be clear, key work processes are,

Your organization’s most important internal value-creation processes. […] They are the processes that involve the majority of your organization’s workforce. Your key work processes frequently relate to your core competencies […] and the factors your senior leaders consider important for organizational growth. Your key work processes are always accomplished by your workforce (Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, p. 51, 2013.)

Two key work processes are obvious in our field: the process of lesson design and the process of lesson delivery.

In the class I introduced the TCD elements, created three teams, released them to engage in the simulated rounds while considering only one TCD element and reflected on the process. During the phase of the rounds where the learners discussed their observations, one team was off-focus, the second was partially focused and the third was fully focused. (That was an interesting dynamic to observe.)

Focusing feedback on the key work process that requires the most change should lead the agenda. In this case the planning of instructional activities was the challenge. Students in the observed simulated classroom were asked to complete activities that were outside of the text they were reading. Higher order thinking was present, but not germane to their text. This created a host of challenges in the simulated learning environment that resulted in unfocused feedback.

The desire to address all areas of concern in a classroom is understood, but unrealistic. It becomes overwhelming for the person who is responsible for creating value for the students–the teacher. It also devalues the experience for the participants.

Focus is necessary. During the reflection portion of the evening, a twelfth-year teacher said this:

I’m glad we did this because I see now how easy it is to get off track in instructional rounds. We really need to go in and stay focused on what we went in to observe. I’m also glad that we were introduced to The Core Deconstructed because it gives us the specifics we should be looking for that impact learning the most. It helped me focus on what learning should look like and what the evidence of the learning should look like.

Note: the learner who shared this comment was from a state that did not adopt the Common Core.

By now in the school year, you are well into rounds (or whatever reflective method you embrace), so I ask you to embrace this challenge. Engage in a pre-classroom visit session to strengthen your focus. You can create your own steps, or borrow the approach we used last week.

  1. Deconstruct the standard being taught in the class you will visit using the original TCD process
  2. Select an element of the TCD  to focus on (each team can select an element)
  3. Engage in your observation methodology of choice
  4. Make individual notes on individual post-its as you observe
  5. Regroup with your team the sort and categorize post-its
  6. Discuss the strengths and growth opportunities that emerged in your categories germane to the TCD elements
  7. Generate your report and hypothetical questions germane to the TCD focus for your simulated event

As shared by the students at George Washington University, focusing your lens with the The Core Deconstructed will certainly create value for the participants, the observed teacher and ultimately the students.



Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (2013). 2013 – 2014 Education criteria for performance excellence.