Data Wise in Action: Stories of Schools Using Data to Improve Teaching and Learning

edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Jennifer L. Steele, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2007, 192 pp., $29.95 softcover

Those of us who work regularly with school teams in data-based decision making know that educators are usually not persuaded by data alone. It often takes data plus stories to convince them to change.

Data Wise in Action: Stories of Schools Using Data to Improve Teaching and Learning is the sequel to the excellent assessment analysis framework developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The book’s eight stories of different schools using the data-wise process to improve teaching and learning should convince even the most diehard skeptic.

The book’s message is an important one: Data analysis is not numbers crunching. It means school teams working collaboratively to solve problems of practice, informed not only by student data, such as test scores, but also by adult data, such as the systematic analysis of curriculum and instruction. The book presents examples and concrete suggestions about how to implement the process, while illustrating the complexity and messiness of the work. It also demonstrates how schools have adapted the steps to fit their particular needs, driving home the point that no one best way exists.

I have used the original Data Wise text as the basis of a graduate course on using data for instructional decision making, and I can see how the two books used in tandem would provide students with background on each step, as well as how they might play out in practice. Appropriate chapters of the book could be applied productively by school-based teams.

Especially helpful are the lessons that distill the important take-away messages in each story for leaders and offer additional suggestions drawn from other schools where the authors (Harvard faculty members and graduate students) have worked.

Reviewed by Ronald S. Thomas, associate director, Center for Leadership in Education, Towson University, Baltimore, Md.