Dr. Scott Benwell

In Collaboration and Community

Data as Knowledge

November 30, 2011 by sbenwell · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

In titling this post as such, I have likely just created more work in explanation than I ever anticipated.  However, that effort will be well worth it if, through our conversations, we are able to create some common understandings about how we can turn the now massive store of facts about student achievement into useful information about what works.  Mike McKay wrote in a recent post, ”Thoughtful practitioners don’t simply wonder why, they don’t blame, or talk about “if only.” They consider possibility.  It is good to see more and more places where educators are collectively engaged in enquiry, action research, risk taking and embracing our profession’s responsibility for monitoring and adjusting based on results”.  Clearly, we have the means and together we can build the capacity.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that a particular intervention, program, or style of teaching has resulted in extraordinary gains for students.  Through the lens of appreciative inquiry, we can celebrate the very best of our profession and inventory the practices that make an extraordinary difference in the lives of students.  Imagine the powerful knowledge generated when we track assessment results over time and form highly accurate predictions about where and when students will need interventions to support and enhance their learning.  As a young teacher, I could have only dreamed of the capacity we now have to inform practice and identify those learning situations that perform well beyond expectations.

This week, for example, I worked with our District Education Team to review district goals and targets in advance of finalizing the Superintendent’s Report on Achievement.  With the help of the  Minsitry’s Data Mobilization Achievement Division that was able to customize some information for our needs along with our own district data collection, we were able to identify cohort learning needs down to individual groups of students.  Now, we are able to have key conversations about specific learning needs that students will have over the next two to three years.

The knowledge about student achievement, learning needs, and successful interventions is key to our effort to be more flexible, adapatable, and responsive as a learning community.  What we are able to learn and know about our student needs will inform our district resourcing, professional growth, and planned interventions.  This is the power of moving data from an array of facts to a knowledge base about how we are doing.  And then, once we have the knowledge, we are able to act with accuracy and intent.

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Wendy Clark

    Hi Scott,
    I am so glad to see a discussion of the positive points of data collection in education! All data can tell a story, even if the story only consists of coming up with more questions. The best story will come from carefully collected information and acknowledgement of the imperfections.

    I sometimes think it is the imperfections and/or data variability that lead to scepticism of results. However, we can’t have a “controlled” environment across schools, or even within schools. On the other hand, listing all of the potential causes of data variability can look like the fine print in pharmaceutical ads.

    Is there a middle ground in education – where enough caution regarding sources of variation is encouraged that people can make reasonable inferences, but not so much that no one but the data diehards want to look at anything but someone else’s conclusions?

  • sbenwell


    Thanks so much for the comment. I agree that we need to take great care in collecting information about learning. Successfully moving from data to knowledge is based on carefully defined processes that will be most successful when students, parents, and educators partner to find meaning and create agreed upon action.

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