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Data-driven educational decision making refers to the process by which educators examine assessment data to identify student strengths and deficiencies and apply those findings to their practice. This process of critically examining curriculum and instructional practices relative to students’ actual performance on standardized tests and other assessments yields data that help teachers make more accurately informed instructional decisions (Mertler, 2007; Mertler & Zachel, 2006)                                                                                    Craig Mertler, Data Driven Classroom

So what’s wrong with data-driven instructional decisions?


When we look only at data as the authors in 4 Disciplines of Execution posit we fall into a trap that keeps us trailing behind the action that would actually influence our ultimate strategic goal.

While a lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal. While a lag measure is hard to do anything about, a lead measure is virtually within your control.

For example, it’s easy for schoolteachers to measure the reading levels of students with a standardized test. Often, they obsess over these lag measures. However, it’s harder to come up with lead measures that predict how students will do on the test. The school is likely to do better is it tracks data on time spent reading (lead measure) than hope and pray that reading scores (lag measures) will rise of their own accord.

Our district has already defined for our campus what our Strategic Goal (lag measure) is for 2017-2018:

Our campus has defined our literacy goal for 2017-2018:

Now, those both sound great, but what are we going to do as practitioners that will be both predictive and influencable? McChesney, Covery and Huling illustrate beautifully the power of lead measures.

4 Discipline of Execution by McChesney, Covey and Huling

The powerful idea behind lead measures is leverage. If we think of our goal as a massive rock and in spite of all the energy, time and focus our team has dedicated to moving the rock, it still hasn’t budged. The problem is not effort. We’d certainly have moved the rock by now if it were only an issue of effort. The sad truth is that effort is not enough. We have to focus our energy and gather evidence of lead measures. Lead measures act as a lever to move the weighty rock (in our case 100{b1cb3973dedeb0700327a1a96fac8de666f282e401fafa3d0ffc94f0ff07de1a} of all students, grades K-6, meeting the standard for reading mastery).

In education, we know that there are certain reader moves that lead to deep understanding of text. We also know there are certain cognitive and metacognitive processes that readers must use in order to read accurately, fluently and with comprehension. Shouldn’t the teaching and modeling of those practices and processes become our lead measures?

Shouldn’t we also take time to use literacy events (read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading) to deliver that modeling and teaching? And isn’t it true that those processes and literacy events satisfy the criteria for lead measures? They are predictable and influencable.

Coming to understand this led our team of literacy teachers to focus on lead measures and to collect evidence, not data, of those measures.

Our lead measures—

#1 Use the genre wall in each instructional reading block K-6 to facilitate transfer of understanding and application of genre, perspective, point of view, structure and purpose of texts read as a class and independently.

#2 Daily commitment to a grade appropriate read aloud as the basis for modeling and instruction of academic moves, habits, and dispositions of proficient readers that lead to the ability for students to make deep meaning of texts.

Our first lead measure will continue all year long. The genre wall set up in each classroom is based on our state standards for genre, purpose, structure and perspective/point of view. Teachers have designed their classroom genre wall to be age appropriate and standards based. After each read-aloud teachers lead students in a quick discussion using the highly visual genre wall to foster understanding and facilitate reader talk about elements and characteristics of genre that are critical for understanding.

The second lead measure will change every 4 weeks (or last longer depending on need/importance). Our first 4 weeks will end next week and our plan is to celebrate implementation of our lead measure (daily instructional read-aloud) based on evidence collected and collaborate to create a plan for sustainability. When we move forward with the next lead measure, we want to make sure the hard work of previous lead measures does not disappear or fade away.

Plans for subsequent lead measures we are committing to:

Shared Reading (4 weeks in grades K-2)

Literacy Groups (4 weeks in grades 3-6)

Guided Reading (8 weeks in grades K-2)

High Quality Reader Response (8 weeks in grades 3-6)

All of these lead measures can easily be measured by evidence we collect. I recently sent an email to a grade level so we could celebrate that for an entire week their team of five teachers had executed at least one instructional read-aloud per day for five days. That’s pretty impressive “data collection”.

You may be wondering how the emphasis on lead measures is working so far this year on our campus. It’s been a challenging process moving from focusing only on the lag measures as we’ve done in years past. I’ve been blown away by the buy-in of our staff. It’s interesting how the shift in focus has impacted engagement. When making lead measures the priority, the team places emphasis on driving lead measures, not on waiting to see numbers and percentages on a spreadsheet long after the work has been done.

Join me next week when I’ll share how we’re working away at the third discipline from 4 Disciplines of Execution–keep a compelling scoreboard.