To understand the real ways that teachers are benefiting from education data tools, the Ed-Fi Alliance and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation have begun a series of interviews with educators in the field. The second interview in the series is with Kim Holmes. Kim teaches biology at Taylor High School in Taylor, Texas. She’s new to the school and has 130 ninth grade students. (The school has 880 students.) In Kim’s final year at her last school, her students had a 100 percent pass rate on their end-of-year tests.

‘One keystroke, and I could see so much’

I totally disagree with the idea that if you tell me to use data to drive my instruction, you’re also telling me I can’t be creative. To me, it’s like looking at a glass and asking: “Half empty or half full?”  Education data invokes creativity. Education data shows us where the students are weak, and what we need to do as educators to turn that around. And that to me opens the whole door of creativity. That, to me, is where a teacher has to be creative.

Coming into this district as a new teacher, I didn’t know these kids at all. I didn’t know their backgrounds; I didn’t know anything about them. If I hadn’t had the dashboard, I’d still have been sorting through data desegregation at the end of the first six weeks. With the dashboards, it was done. One keystroke, and I could see so much of what I needed to know. I knew how they’d done in the past, their weaknesses, their strengths, problem areas like absenteeism. I knew how to get in touch with parents. Then with a few more clicks of a keyboard, I could see each student up close and personal.

It’s made a huge difference.

There’s one student in particular who had a lot of problems last year. He’s an English language learner. He had big gaps in knowledge. This year, I was able to get him on track and close those gaps. He’s working hard; when he’s in my class, he doesn’t want to leave. Things that he didn’t know before now mean something. I’m able to make biology, science, connect for him.

Data is just a tool that helps teachers personalize learning

Teaching is all about creativity. If I go to class every day, use the curriculum and never make learning personally meaningful to a student, I’m going to fail.

Take a word. If I just put that word on the board with its definition, and say, “Memorize it!” students will see that word in a very narrow way. It’ll just be, “A word that I had to memorize, and I can’t tell you what it means in the next six weeks.” That’s monotony. And we’re not going to get anywhere with that.

But I can take a student and show him different ways to use a word, different ways to look up a word, and ways that the word relates to him personally. And there are so many creative ways to do that. You can extend that to any concept that students need to master. Data is just another useful tool I can use as an educator to see where I need to be more creative.

The student I mentioned earlier? I wouldn’t have been able to do that with him without very clear insight into his weaknesses. With the data dashboard, I had the information I needed to get him on track. I could see that in the past, he just didn’t complete projects; he didn’t know how to tie all his work together. But when I was able to work with him one-on-one on a project and basically show him how to put a bow on a package after you’ve wrapped it, he got it. He finished the project.

And that one accomplishment was all it took. Now he’s eager to do more. The data helped me open up a door that had never been opened for him.

Read the first post in the series, Stacey Hensley: Education data makes a tough job easier.

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