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?

17 thoughts on “Data and Questions

  1. Thanks for the post Greg. I’m always interested to see what schools do with HSC results. Whether its innately human or something we train ourselves to do, I always sweat over HSC results (on behalf of the students) and hope they get either what we predicted or a little bit better. Quite often I am happily surprised as many kids put a final burst of effort in towards the end, if they see the potential benefit of that effort, and gain a pleasing result. However, I am conscious that I need to make sure I am vocalising and giving feedback on other areas of the school experience too. Even though it’s easy and perhaps more powerful to put HSC results and ATARs on the school billboard, we need to let the kids know they are more than a mark to us. CLARA looks like a meaningful way of doing this and students, parents and teachers should get this info and see it as often as grades or marks. Imagine if on billboards we saw a happiness index of the students next to their ATARs?…

    1. Hi Matt,

      I agree that CLARA looks like a meaningful way of getting data that will impact positive on student learning. The research is there but I suggest we will see a “well-being/resilience index” as important as the HSC ranks and ATAR results, when we convince the masses of its effectiveness.


  2. Always interesting to read what starts out as a recap of a ‘day with DeCourcy’ and diversifies into so many other areas. Such is the complexity of the socio-economic nature of education in preparing our learners for the world of work and life in general. So many questions to ask and provide a platform for rich and rigorous discussion, decision making, innovation and change. While technology provides this forum for some, my question is how do we engage the masses so we can all become agents of change? Thank you Greg.

    1. Great question, Pauline. John did go into that area a little bit, and has some resources on his website, Also, I know I have some reading to strengthen my understanding of ‘Professional Capital’ as presented by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. Professional Capital acknowledges ‘everyone owns the context’ including the data, and therefore it becomes a cultural approach to ‘engaging the masses’. Here is a summary

  3. Great blog (again) Greg. Some other questions that the data can raise (“peeling back the onion”) – What is it that you have been doing in this past year and why? What is the progress and how do you know? Where do you go next?
    Data from CEC is important – but also raises the question of what are doing in our school in terms of measuring our mission statements? I know of many schools – that have “holistic” mission statements – but do we only report (and concentrate on) the academic side of learning? Reading this CLARA information certainly challenges me, that these skills, talents can be developed and measured – and reported on!
    Time for some more reading on CLARA! Thanks Greg.

    1. Hi Tony,
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Yes, the CLARA tool is worth investigating. It may, or may not, support greater alignment with Faith, Care and Learning goals, but it would be good to find out.

  4. Great and though provoking stuff again in this blog Greg.
    The CLARA information (I love any possible Doctor Who reference) is fabulous additional information that really adds to the all round information we collect on our students. They are not all about the HSC and reducing students to a single 4 digit number is something I have struggled with since moving to Australia.
    The CLARA feedback gives a more developed picture of the achievements they have made, especially when we know that the number they are assigned is the culmination of 13 years of education, and does not always reflect the real story behind the student.
    As a HOD I often feel judged by the data presented after the HSC results, myself and the other teachers often have the question conversations and think about the real stories. Sometimes a band 3 is an amazing achievement when you look at the whole picture.
    Each year group is a different group of individuals, with different goals, passions and experiences, and should be treated as such. The measure of hope and optimism is really refreshing.
    Thank yo again Greg

  5. Some great thoughts here Greg and a fantastic summary of the day. I too was intrigued with how John focused on the questions rather than the data. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  6. Great post Greg! You are very fortunate to have had the time to focus on really unpacking all that De Courcy’s analysis model provides! It is such a rich package which speaks far more of our impact as teachers than HSC Results or ATAR ranks could do alone.

    You are so correct in that there is a need to have the ‘soft skills’ valued and represented when we are providing feedback to students. After years assessing students on our own ‘School-wide Learning Outcomes, we moved to the ACARA General Capabilities, using their Learning Continua as the basis of our own marking guidelines to assess these soft skills. They are worth a look!

    Looking forward to working with some of your colleagues from DBB this term on PBL!

  7. Thanks Greg for linking me in. I believe that it is vital that the DeCourcy data is used for questioning and received by staff using a growth mindset. The questions raised by the data offer the opportunity for rich professional dialogue and critical reflection.

    Thank you for sharing the CLARA link. I was moved to tears today by a raw and honest speech from our Dux from 2015. This speech raised many questions about how the culture of the HSC impacts on our high achievers and has led me to ponder how we can support these students better. I understand that many students have already placed too much pressure on themselves to achieve a number..which has led me to wonder whether our focus in the final years of schooling is too focused on the end result as a number,rather than the process of learning. Only a day earlier our middle leader team watched this clip from Carol Dweck to enhance our understanding of academic pastoral care. I couldn’t help to make a connection today, with a tear in my eye, about how we need to be mindful of the nature of the praise we use to avoid making our students vulnerable. She spoke about focusing our praise on the process of learning rather than grades…which is good for thought for our whole school approach to formative practices.

    I will investigate CLARA with my team. The value of building resilience in our students through such a diagnostic tool is very exciting.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Brilliant blog post, Greg. I think what is most thought provoking here for me is your question about social and emotional skills. Building resilience and instilling (or perhaps encouraging) an “I can improve” growth mindset are vital for the development of lifelong learners. Having just crunched the data for the 2015 HSC, I asked our staff, “What did our students who achieved the most learning gain have in common? Did they have a growth mindset? To which the staff resoundingly said yes. The longer I work in education, the more desirous I am of more effectively merging the pastoral and academic domains in a school- the school improvement goals are inextricably linked and I think this is something we need to recognise and foster as educators.

    Your other point about critical thinking and creative thinking rubrics is also really valuable. It underpins the Aust curriculum as a general capability and I feel that much work needs to be done in this area. It raises plenty of questions about the ways in which we report progress.

    I feel that classroom teachers need to be more empowered to understand and critically reflect on their students’ data. This area is often ‘owned’ by HODs and to me this is ineffectual if our ultimate aim is to use the data to ask questions about our practice.

    Very inspiring work, Greg.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. A better balance and greater alignment among dispositions (resilience, trust etc.) with skills of collaboration and critical thinking, along with mandate curriculum requirements, is our greatest challenge.


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