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ACHIEVING A WEALTH OF RICHES: New Alliance Brief Examines How Teachers Can Use Data to Transform Teaching and Learning

"Simply putting someone on a fire truck and giving him a water hose does not mean that he can put out a fire."

Too many teachers are “data rich but information poor,” meaning that while student data is becoming more abundant, not enough teachers have access to training, support, and the structures needed to use data effectively. So says Achieving a Wealth of Riches: Delivering on the Promise of Data to Transform Teaching and Learning, a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education, which was released on August 13 and made possible through generous support from the MetLife Foundation.

“Simply putting someone on a fire truck and giving him a water hose does not mean that he can put out a fire,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, “and merely providing teachers with more data does not ensure that they know how to use data to improve student learning.”

According to the brief, expectations for teachers have changed dramatically over the past several years. The enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act and recent federal investments in Statewide Data Systems mean that many teachers now have access to a wealth of data on how their students are performing. Along with this new influx of data come new responsibilities as teachers are being asked to go beyond traditional roles and embrace the use of data to improve their teaching and students’ learning.

There is a growing understanding that data is critical to ensuring that students are graduating from high school both college and career ready, the brief argues. Whereas some teachers in the past may have used data from classroom quizzes and tests to determine whether their students have learned the material, teachers are now expected to use multiple sources of information, including students’ daily work, surveys detailing students’ background information, end-of-course exams, and state-mandated tests to inform their instruction. Without proper training, teachers may not understand the data they receive or how to use it; even worse, they may inaccurately translate data and modify their instructional strategies with unintended consequences.

“Few teachers, especially those who have been in the classroom for several years, have been taught assessment or data literacy skills in their teacher preparation courses,” Wise said. “Therefore it is critical that schools, districts, states, and the federal government promote effective professional development to help build teachers’ abilities in these areas.”

To help teachers better understand and use data, Achieving a Wealth of Riches calls for providing teachers with “assessment literacy skills” to help them create valid and reliable assessments, embed assessment practices in instruction, and use multiple kinds of assessment data to make informed decisions about instruction. In addition, the brief says that teachers also need “data literacy skills” to access, convert, and manipulate data in order to make informed decisions in the classroom.

The brief suggests particular roles that schools, districts, and states should play in making every classroom data-driven and outlines federal actions that can positively support teachers’ use of data to improve student achievement. Specific recommendations are as follows:

• Provide incentives for states to adopt and implement common standards.
• Ensure that summative assessments are aligned with the state-led common standards effort.
• Support pre-service and in-service training for teachers to use data to improve student achievement.
• Support innovative school structures that allow for data use in the classroom.
• Invest in research.

Achieving a Wealth of Riches: Delivering on the Promise of Data to Transform Teaching and Learning is available at

The brief was released at an event featuring nearly 150 educators, policymakers, and other key stakeholders gathered in Washington, DC. Speakers at the event included Kati Delahanty, a teacher at Charlestown High School in MassachusettsNorah Lycknell, a former resident principal at Eliot-Hine Middle School in Washington, DCLeslie W. Grant, a visiting assistant professor at the College of William & Mary; and Joe Aguerrebere, president and CEO of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. Video and other materials from the event are available at

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