This multi-method qualitative study focuses on interim data use in 10 low performing elementary schools in Philadelphia. It focuses on how schools and instructional communities within those schools (grade level teams, instructional leadership teams) use interim data for instructional improvement at the classroom, grade, and school levels. The study is based on a theory of action that outlines how the use of interim assessment influences student learning. The theory considers the influence of the larger policy context and dimensions of school capacity on a four step feedback system that translates interim data into improvement action, which in turn yields gains in student learning. The four dimensions of school capacity are human and social capital, structural capacity, and available solutions. The four step feedback system, which the authors posit as operating at multiple levels, includes accessing and organizing data, sense-making to identify problems and solutions, trying solutions, and assessing and modifying solutions.
Study findings provide very interesting food for thought. The posited theory of action provides one good conceptual frame for considering what needs to be in place to support effective use of interim assessment. Among the study questions is: What organizational practices ensure that the use of Benchmark data contributes to organizational learning and ongoing instructional improvement within and across instructional communities? In this area the study found that instructional leadership and teacher collective responsibility variables had the strongest and most consistent relationships with student achievement across years and subjects. The study’s categorization of different types of data sense-making is very thoughtful: strategic (aimed more at quick fixes, such as test preparation, identifying bubble kids), affective sense making (dealing with professional agency, beliefs about students, personal accountability) and reflective sense making (involving questioning and evaluating instructional practice), the least observed sense making. The authors recommend a balance across the types and note the relationship between the quality of sense-making and the quality of instructional action.