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Consider the evidence: Introduction – Evidence-driven decision making


This resource aims to engage leaders and teachers in thinking through some ideas, principles, and processes that will enhance the school’s approach to collecting and using data and other evidence.

The focus of the resource is secondary education from years 7–13, but the approach can be adapted for other school environments.

Schools should draw on all of their knowledge about the students and the learning environment to improve student achievement, explore what lies behind patterns of achievement, and decide what changes will make a difference.

We all know that we can make significant improvements to teaching and learning by analysing data and applying what we learn from it. But an issue for many schools is that they have too much data in some areas. They have a lot of evidence and not enough time and resources to use it all effectively. In other areas, they have too little evidence.

Any change to teaching practice is a risk – you can never be entirely sure of the consequences. The approach suggested in this resource can help by assessing or reducing risk, and maybe by pointing out options for change that have lesser risk.

You are encouraged and assisted to

  • think about how you use data and other evidence to improve teaching, learning, and student achievement
  • improve your understanding, confidence, and capability in using data to improve practice
  • think about how you make decisions
  • think about your school’s needs
  • start to plan your own evidence-based projects.

This resource offers a way to identify issues and make decisions by analysing "data and other evidence" in a structured and informed way.

This resource does not justify the use of data analysis in schools – teachers and schools already understand the benefits of data analysis and to some extent already do it. This resource does not provide data processing tools or directions on how to analyse data. These are readily available.

What is evidence-driven decision making?

There’s nothing mysterious about evidence-driven decision making. We all make decisions every day based on an analysis of a number of factors.

In this frivolous, non-educational scenario you’d analyse the factors and make a decision in seconds (or you’d go hungry).

Evidence-driven eating

You need to buy lunch. Before you decide what to buy you consider a number of factors: How much money do you have? What do you feel like eating? What will you be having for dinner? How far do you need to go to buy food? How much time do you have? Where are you going to eat it?

If you are still undecided, and an especially analytical person, you might also consider: Who are you eating with? How much do you want to spend? What did you have for breakfast? How hungry are you? Are you on a special diet? What else do you need to do this lunchtime? Who do you want to avoid this lunchtime?

Apply this to teaching. Teachers continually consider what they know about students. They look for and use a variety of evidence as a normal part of effective and reflective teaching.

The scenario below illustrates a typical investigative approach.

Evidence-driven teaching

I had a hunch that Ana wasn’t doing as well as she could in her research assignments, a major part of the history course. What made me think this?

Ana’s general work (especially her writing) was fine. She made perceptive comments in class, contributed well in groups and had good results overall last year, especially in English. How did I decide what to do about it?

I looked more closely at her other work. I watched her working in the library one day to see if it was her reading, her use of resources, her note taking, her planning, or what. At morning tea I asked one of Ana’s other teachers about Ana’s approach to similar tasks. I asked Ana if she knew why her research results weren’t as good as her other results, and what her plans were for the next assignment.

I thought about all of this and Ana and I planned a course of action together. I gave her help with using indexes, searching, note taking, planning, and linking the various stages of her research.

This story told by Ana’s history teacher is typical. It’s not a formal investigation. It’s just the sort of thing good teachers do all the time. It might have taken place over just a few days and probably took very little of the teacher’s time.

This teacher had a "hunch" based on his general professional observations. He compared a range of existing evidence to see if his hunch was correct. It was. He wanted to find a way to improve this one aspect of Ana’s achievement. He assembled other evidence, including the student’s own views, and considered it. This enabled him to pinpoint the problem and plan a course of action designed to improve Ana’s achievement.

This teacher was thinking about the data and other evidence he had right there in front of him – and then he acted on his conclusions. He used evidence-driven decision making, using data and other evidence to inform his actions.

In this resource we see how to expand and systematise that sort of professional thinking to drive improvement across the school.