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The Future of K-12 Is Data Literacy

As we reopen our schools, and come to terms with the fact that the education system is never going to be the same, our decisions must be equitable and data-driven.

Looking to SY 2020-2021—and beyond

Educators are under enormous time constraints, facing some of the most nuanced decisions around best practices to approach teaching and learning post-COVID. They undoubtedly want to base such decisions on the best available research, though they might not have enough time or training as they juggle multiple priorities and considerations.

The Paper team sought the guidance of educational researcher and author Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D for how school leaders can best navigate the coming school year.

This school year, the first priority will be getting students reintegrated into school, regardless of the model being remote, hybrid, or in-person.

Identifying the academic and socioemotional needs, specifically of homeless students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students directly affected by COVID-19 through a family death or hospitalization will be key. District leaders will need to consider a variety of screening and diagnostic assessments for this. They can also use this as an opportunity to pilot new assessments that provide relevant, actionable diagnostic information to teachers and parents.

Dr. Rhoads just published his book, Navigating the Toggled Term, wherein he introduces educators to the new realities secondary education must face as districts and schools combat the challenges ahead.

The “toggled term” represents this reality for schools and districts as they will likely move back and forth between online instruction and face to face instruction as the threat of the pandemic remains present. The book provides recommendations on how to take on this increasingly complex reality. Educators are given a foundation of content and skills in educational technology, instruction, Special Education, and parent and student engagement to navigate both online and blended learning educational settings.

What led Dr. Rhoads to his doctoral research was his background in special education, where he was writing individualized educational plans for students with disabilities and managing a variety of student data. His attention was drawn to a major gap in public education—people didn’t know how to utilize all the data being collected everyday in schools.

In his research, Dr. Rhoads found that across California, the types of data used the most by K-12 educational leaders has to do with accountability. “They’re using this data for accountability, for example for state testing. But it has to deal with a lot of funding, so the accountability in the state testing all relate to the types of data they’re using the most so they can receive funding.”

“I feel like since we're in the 21st century, we should be data driven in everything that we do to provide instruction for students. When we have our students engage in lessons where ed tech tools are a mechanism to deliver instruction and to assess student learning, we are collecting a lot of student data. Unfortunately, this data is not always used to make instructional decisions.”

With the advent of ed tech [...] teachers have the opportunity to learn how to collect and analyze data to help them monitor and adjust their instruction, and meet their students where they are in their learning.

Furthermore, his work as secondary education teacher as well as his research led him to develop and write a guide in the book Navigating the Toggled Term to help all educators and school leaders navigate the post-COVID reality. Divided into four parts, it serves as a comprehensive guide for districts to navigate the next 12-18 months.

“When COVID-19 closures happened, I wanted to help—I started developing a lot of different instructional models that deal with blended learning. In my book I refer to what I call the ‘toggled instructional framework,’ that allows for schools to move between multiple educational settings: Online, hybrid and even traditional throughout the entire school year depending on public health restrictions. Because you know, one case will close down the school, as we’ve seen. We need to be able to switch at the drop of the hat, so we need to develop a framework where learning is always happening [...] I hope people will be able to use the book to help choose targeted interventions.”

Targeted resources and interventions

According to a collaborative brief from NWEA, educators will need data to guide curriculum and instruction in support of students—especially to target resources and attention for communities most impacted by COVID-19 school closures.Dr. Rhoads similarly explained how this fall, districts should be assessing, but it shouldn't be the first thing that we're doing.

“We should be making sure that routines and socioemotional learning is intact. Then, we should assess where students are academically, and then determine based on those assessments what interventions we need to try and catch students up. I think the assessment will provide us with a large dataset of trying to figure out what students regressed in the most and we can then pinpoint where we need to go.”


About Dr. Matthew Rhoads

Dr. Matthew Rhoads is an Educational Specialist, author and researcher. His research expertise relates to the efficacy of data practices among educational leaders as well as how educational leaders employ data practices and harness their leadership ability in establishing and participating in data-driven cultures in K-12 schools and districts. In addition, Dr. Rhoads has researched traditional and non-traditional professional development and its effectiveness in K-12 settings.


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