By linking resources to decisions driven by hard data, school districts can raise achievement and make dramatic gains towards ending the achievement gap, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor says.
Allan Odden, a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, said schools that have successfully improved performance share some common traits, including using test results to deploy the right resources and staff to the classrooms - and children - who need them most.
"Everybody has got to get their fingers dirty analyzing the data," he said, noting testing - while unpopular - does provide information on what is working and what is not.
Using data to target instruction and resources "makes teachers more efficient and more effective in what they teach," Odden said. Later, he said, the data should be used to create funding models that direct resources and teachers to elementary, middle and high schools, depending on need. He noted, for example, that research shows class-size reductions have the greatest positive effect in grades K-3.
In addition to data-based decision-making, Odden encouraged struggling school districts to set higher goals, consider new curriculums, invite outside expertise and provide ongoing professional development alongside a culture that accepts teachers as leaders within the school.
He said teacher training is most effective when there is collaboration and when it is accompanied by follow-up coaching.
"Training with coaching leads to professional change," Odden said. "Teacher leaders can be instructional coaches working with other teachers toward data-based decision-making and using data to change instructional practice.
"In the best school districts, there is a superintendent leading at the top, a principal leading at each school and there are teacher leaders who lead and serve as instructional coaches."