Data and Questions

DeCourcy & Data

Dr John DeCourcy has served as a teacher and principal in Catholic education for over forty years. However, he is probably better known for his ground-breaking work in Higher School Certificate (HSC) Data Analysis for the last fifteen years. Through the provision of quality data, John’s work has enhanced the professional knowledge base of educators by deepening our understanding of the relationship between teacher practice and student performance.

Last Friday, I was fortunate to spend a day with a number of colleagues from across New South Wales at the annual DeCorucy seminar. John reminded us that the purpose of data analysis is not to make judgements but to raise questions. He stated,

“Professionalism is characterised by using data to raise questions. Developing questions supports the search for improvement and for teachers in particular to develop their craft.”

It is, of course, a craft that is primarily focused on learning, not just examination results. On the day, there was a lot of discussion about data but rarely did we look at specific data sets. I suspect John’s learning intention was for participants to leave better informed about the purpose of data and how it can inform quality learning.

The informing happens through questioning. Three great questions to get teachers thinking are:

  • What questions does the data raise?
  • How did you use the data within your school setting?
  • What are the patterns emerging at your school?

It is not just the teachers who must immerse themselves in the the data, school and system leaders must do so as well. It is important for leaders to immerse themselves with teachers in the data because no-one knows it all and,  as John said,

“Leaders engaging as learners with their staff is critical to framing questions which respond to data.”

As we moved throughout the day we were asked to consider the leading indicators of HSC success, “because as we all know the results are the lagging indicator!” Great question right there! The HSC sets high standards for students often demanding high levels of resilience, motivation, drive, self-belief and efficacy, in particular the ability to plan and manage time. For example, the time, effort and energy required for a HSC Major Work or Project requires of students those dispositions more than at any other stage of their school life. Are these dispositions the leading indicators of HSC success?

We have all heard the saying, “We measure what we value and we value what we measure.” At the moment, educators are excellent at extensively measuring literacy and numeracy. Literacy and numeracy are important, but so too are skills such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. If we truly valued these skills, rubrics for them would be mainstream in classrooms, but they are not. (BTW – Here is a recent attempt to align Collaboration with Google Docs – any feedback would be greatly appreciated – apologies for digressing).

Just as important as the critical skills of creativity, critical thinking and collaboration, are the dispositions mentioned above, but which dispositions are the most important? A 2015 OECD Report, Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills list perseverance, conscientiousness, self-esteem, socliability and emotional stability as key dispositions required for young people to maximise learning. According to The Gallup Student Poll the key factors that impact student performance are hope, engagement, and well-being, and they measure it! Insight SRC regard well-being, engagement and relationships as critical factors which support student learning. Based on extensive scientific research, they work with schools in the Parramatta Diocese, Lismore Diocese and in Victoria, to provide data sets in these areas.

There is also the fifteen years of work by Ruth Crick and others which has resulted in the Crick Learning for Resilient Agency Profile (CLARA)

“CLARA identifies Mindful Agency as a key learning power dimension which predicts the set of active dimensions: Creativity, Curiosity, Sense-Making and Hope & Optimism.  Two distinct Relationship dimensions measure Belonging and Collaboration. Finally, an Orientation to Learning indicator measures a person’s degree of Openness to change — in contrast to either fragile dependency or rigid persistence.” (accessed 30 January, 2016).

My understanding is that CLARA surveys students and reports back findings in key areas, putting a face on the data and producing a profile.


accessed from learningemergence.net30 January, 2016.

CLARA also aggregates individual profiles for school communities. WOW! Considering that the research says these dispositions are foundational for great learning, can you imagine the questions that could be raised with this data?

What are your thoughts?

Creating Time

For those who work in education, and like many other industries, there is just never enough time. A few months back, I was introduced to an article “K-!2 Innovation: It’s About Time“. The author was  2015, Texas Teachers of the Year, Shanna PeeplesAs part of the article she wrote,

“Some of the most innovative, creative and powerful lessons I’ve ever helped to design were created from collaborations with colleagues in a small group given time to really think through a lesson.”

This reminded me of occasions when I have seen teachers provided with time to meet, plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate learning for students. A number of them reflected it was the best professional learning they had undertaken as a teacher, and some commented that it was the most they had grown as an educator.


Finding Time

Image courtesy of Doug Belshaw on Flickr under Creative Commons


So, how can we find time for teachers to meet, plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate learning in the classrooms to produce powerful learning for students AND teachers? Well, I provide a few possibilities….

(Now, there are a lot of numbers about to be thrown at you, and I am not great with  numbers, but please hang in there with me!).

School “A” is a secondary school in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. In NSW, the regulatory authority mandates the minimum delivery of 400 hours of English, Mathematics, Science and HSIE (History, Society and its Environment) to students across Years 7 to 10. However, at School “A”, they deliver 520 Hours of English, Maths, Science and HSIE across Years 7 to 10. (As an aside, can anyone inform me where the ‘value add’ is between hour 401 and hour 520?) Anyway, the end result is a combined surplus of 480 hours (across the four subjects over four years); 120 hours per year. If School “A” was to reduce those 520 hours per subject to 480 hours per subject, still 80 surplus hours over the fours years, then they could ‘find’ 160 hours of ‘time’ per year. Wow!

Now, just to give you an idea of what can be done with 160 hours……. (and please, hang in there with me) School “A” allocates 40 hours less (ie. 120 hours) towards the delivery of an entire subject in Year 7; that being, Languages Other Than English (LOTE). Also, School “A” allocates 240 hours towards Music/Visual Arts in Year 7 & 8 over two school years. As per its timetable, 120 hours per year = 3 x 1 hours lessons per week. 160 hours over the course of a year would compute to 4 x 1 hour lessons per week, or in other terms 4/5ths of one school day per week. School “A” has just ‘created time’.

Maybe, just maybe, School “A” could reduce the mandatory hours for English, Maths, Science and HSIE and redirect that time in the form of 3 or 4 one hour blocks throughout the week where the students are supervised at ‘yard duty ratios’. Students could work on interest projects while the vast majority of teachers could meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate learning in teams. Students could access open spaces, indoor, outdoor and virtual and collaboratively work on interest projects. Such an idea would require support and guidance for students to ‘self-direct’ their interest projects but c’mon people, stick with me here – I am just throwing up ideas! Again, whilst students engage in these interest projects, the professional learning benefit would be that teachers meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate together to improve the quality and facilitation of learning throughout the rest of the school week. And what’s more, there is no financial cost to this. NONE! No financial cost for what many teachers consider excellent professional development. However, it does require a new way of thinking about how we use time in a secondary school setting.

School “B” is a two stream primary school. School “B” employs two casual teachers every second Thursday. Those casual teachers are employed to replace 2 x Year 5 teachers for the first half of the day and then replace Year 6 teachers for the second half of the day. This occurs for Term 1 and allows them to meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate students learning. In Term 2 the same for Year 3 & 4 teachers. In Term 3 for Year 1 & 2 teachers and in Term 4 Kindergarten teachers get a whole day to meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate together. (Look, my secondary background limits my thinking here, but I am sure the creativity of primary principals and teachers could come up with something a lot better). Cost = employment of 2 casual teachers, 2 x $400 per day ($800) x 4 times per term ($3200)  x 4 terms per year ($12 800) per year. What’s the cost of school based, contextual professional development for teachers when done well?

There is absolutely no doubt these and other similar ideas would require extensive consultation with staff, students and parents. And, I know there will inevitably be people loudly cry out, things like – say, in the case of School “A’”, “We won’t get through the content.” But Puuuhhlllleeeezzzze, when did any student suffer from “not getting through the content” in Year 7, 8, 9 or 10? And, please show me the research which proves this. In the case of School “B”, there may be those who might say, “That won’t work because…..” Well, I ask that we look at how it CAN work.

Looking ahead, I ask those educational leaders who can, to make bold decisions and ‘create time’ by ignoring the chorus of, “That won’t work because……” We need to roll our sleeves up and challenge the thinking as well as overcome obstacles which get in the way of ‘finding time’ or ‘make better use of time’. Shanghai, Singapore, and British Columbia understand the need to create time for teachers to collaborate. Hopefully, Australia will too one day soon. After all, it is in the best interests of student learning.



Please note this article “Get Time Right; Don’t settle for Vanilla+”. Maybe the ideas suggested above, and below in the comments section, are “Vanilla+”.