Approaches to effective data use: Does one size fit all?

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This chapter describes the experiences from the most recent phase of a 7-year research project in South Africa on school-based monitoring of pupil performance in some 22 primary schools. The project aimed to generate knowledge as well as to design and develop a well-functioning feedback system to provide data to schools on learner performance. The feedback system that was developed is known as the South African Monitoring system for Primary schools (SAMP). A key objective of this phase of the project was to evaluate the use of the performance data at school and classroom level and to design an intervention for effective use of the data within the primary school environment. It is hoped that a deeper understanding of how data travel in schools (data paths) and how schools can appropriately use data may assist policymakers in developing monitoring policies and provide guidance to school leaders and teachers. This chapter focuses on the data generated through observations, journals, and interviews in the evaluation of one of these design cycles. The sample consists of three schools participating in SAMP that were purposefully selected. The evaluation data collected during this cycle of development focused particularly on how data were used by schools and how data moved within the schools. Three distinct approaches to data use that appeared to be appropriate for their specific contexts (schools) were identified: Team, Cascade, and Top-down. The data suggest that the most appropriate and effective approach of use may depend on the culture of the school, school leadership approach, level of teacher development, and context and level of functioning of the school. There are, however, certain commonalities in the approaches to effective data use. An effective feedback system should thus try to establish or encourage these conditions for data use. The data in this chapter seem to suggest that policy on data use should be flexible and provide exemplars of various possible approaches, which are appropriate for different contexts. It is important that there are layers of sophistication (different levels of detail, complexity of presentation, and disaggregation) within the data, which the school can access as needed for its particular milieu.

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Archer, E., Scherman, V., & Howie, S. (2013). Approaches to effective data use: Does one size fit all? In Data-based Decision Making in Education: Challenges and Opportunities (pp. 91–112). Springer Netherlands.

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