What’s the big data deal?

Throughout educational literature, we are inundated with messages about the power of assessment to do everything from developing learner agency, to improving the quality of teachers (Wiliams, 2016), to guiding educational decision-making. A key part of professional learning for many educators now is to use assessment data to question an area of student performance and then design and implement solutions. School leadership teams are being asked to use assessment data to report on the effectiveness of their programmes. Logically using assessment to measure progress makes sense. But I wonder, how feasible is this really? And what barriers might we face in attempting to use data in these ways?

As the PYP coordinator of a small primary international school in Africa, I want to understand how I can use data with my teaching teams to improve learning for our students. I want to know whether the assessment data we have already collected can be purposefully and accurately used to tell us something constructive about our teaching, our school’s programmes, and our students. I’d also like to be clearer about what data we are missing. This is an issue I have been slowly circling around for the last couple of years, but it is time to pull my head out of the sand and address it directly.

And I don’t think I’m alone. In the recently updated Primary Years Programme (PYP) Standards and Practices (2018), the Approaches to Assessment section stated the following practice:

“Teachers document and analyse student learning over time to design learning experiences based on data.”

International Baccalaureate, 2018, 22

It is clear then that the International Baccalaurate (IB) also expects teachers to use assessment data to improve learning. Perhaps for some PYP schools this will already be a well-established practice, but I think for many of us this is a new requirement that will need thoughtful consideration and a strategic plan for implementation.

Over a series of blog posts, I will engage in a literature review and reflection on own personal context to try and identify the barriers we face as a PYP school to achieve this goal. My hope is that this review will support other PYP coordinators in tackling this challenge and help them identify strategies for supporting their school community in the journey.

My next post: The Assessment Capable Teacher, part 1.


International Baccalaureate Organisation (2018). Programme Standards and Practices. Retrieved from https://resources.ibo.org/data/programme-standards-and-practices_f719525e-3b15-4fbd-96e5-e12719ad78b7/PRC-Programme_standards_and_practices-WEB_c4c2d5c9-8328-45a9-945e-da951600651f.pdf

Wiliams, D. (2016). Leadership for Teacher Learning: Creating a Culture Where All Teachers Improve so That All Students Succeed. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences International.

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