Data use in an era of accountability : a case study of data driven decision making in high performing middle schools in the Rio Grande Valley
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This study examined how higher performing middle schools in the Rio Grande Valley use data to drive instructional decisions. Three research questions guided this study: (a) to what extent do higher performing, Title-1, middle schools in the Rio Grande Valley utilize data to make schoolwide instructional decisions; (b) how does the principal support data use for instructional decision-making; and (c) what do teachers perceive to be the processes that have led to the current level of data use in instructional decision making? A mixed-methods multiple-case study included middle schools that were drawn from a list of higher performing schools according to Just for the Kids and the National Center for Educational Achievement. To be included in the study, schools had to be located in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, specifically in the counties of Starr, Cameron or Hidalgo. Additionally, the schools needed to be designated a Title-1 school, according to federal criteria. Data for the study was collected using a survey, followed by one-on-one interviews. Descriptive analyses was then conducted using the survey data. The interview data was analyzed using first-level coding followed by the use of cross case analysis to determine themes common to all cases. The findings from this research revealed that data is used extensively in the schools studied; primarily to determine the instructional scope of what is taught. It was found that while data use was extensive, the source and purpose of data use was limited to that which was directly tied to the state-administered assessment (TAKS). The second major finding was that principals create the necessary conditions for data use that becomes an embedded practice, where teachers can take risks with their colleagues in reviewing and using data. This study concludes that more principals can lead their schools to greater levels of data use by creating the necessary conditions for change. At the same time, the findings suggest that there is a need for leaders at all levels to examine and mitigate the unintended consequences of data use that is derived from a single-source and for a single purpose—that is, performance on the state exam (TAKS).