Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The data driven library

Image from Pixabay

In the August / September 2010 edition of the Library Media Connection was an article titled "The Data-driven library program".  This article is timeless as it discusses how the Oondag-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services, School Library System (OCMBoCES SLS in the USA)  district thought a little bit different about collaboration and came up with a strategy that not only boosted the use the library, but also gave the librarians much needed status with the teachers and schools by improving student learning, school wide.

The main question to start the discussion and program initiatives was:

"Through collaboration, how can the library program be instrumental at leading efforts to school-wide improvement in student learning?" 

There are four parts to this question that we need to connect with ;
  • collaboration
  • leading
  • school-wide
  • student learning
These three elements are what makes a strong school library program and what we need to be focusing on.
  • Collaboration means no going it alone, it is about working with others toward a mutual understanding and goal.
  • Leading is about being proactive, knowing where you want to go and how to get there. It is also about bringing others along for the ride. It is not reactive, or complaining or just accepting things as they are.
  • School-wide is about the whole school community - not just about the library. It is about moving beyond comfort zones and shaking things up.
  • Student learning is what why we do what we do in schools. It should be the focus of every decision and change in school and the library.
From this big and important question the PALS (Partners in Achievement : Library and Students) initiative was born.  The program worked by using "student achievement data from state assessments to inform & enhance library collections and collaborations with classroom teachers and to plan unit of instruction to address identified student needs."

The PALS developed a second essential question :

How could my library program in partnership with classroom teachers, leverage data from standardized state assessments to respond to students’ academic strengths and challenges?”
  • library program
  • partnership
  • leverage data
  • respond

In other words, how could working with the classroom teachers and data make what I do more meaningful and have an impact on learning?

One strength in the success of the program was that each school librarian started working with one teacher who was supportive, a master of their craft and willing to work collaboratively. The program did not go all out to change the world all at once.

The school librarians and teachers were up skilled on a particular piece of software (Data Mentor) and worked with the data. They then asked further questions to guide where they were going and what they were learning. They analysed how the questions on the standardised tests reflected AASL & NYS information literacy standards (and now common core, or even ATL skills) for each grade level. They evaluated how each grade was performing in relation to the standard indicator, and to other grades, they also identfied the strengths and challenges that each grade demonstrated. Once they had curated this data, they made a plan to move forward to target instruction.

They worked on a 2 year action plan together focusing on a or a just a few specific performance indicators. They did not try to cover everything at once. The school librarian and the teacher collaboratively planned learning experiences that built the skill level for those weaker indicators over time.

Another part of the PALS program was to address collection development and formed this important question ....

"How do librarians use various types of data to inform their instruction and to build a library collection aligned to curriculum & recreational reading?"

What data is used to build your collection? How do you collect it? We need to get beyond borrowing stats, online database usage and how many books we bought. We need to consider what are the needs of the community, how will we find this out, and then what will we do about it.


Reading this article highlighted to me, that to make a real difference in schools, to make a real difference to learning, we need to be involved in the creation, marking and evaluating of the formative and summative assessments of the students we work with. Although this article is based on American standardised tests, the concept & strategies could work world wide using any assessment data and any standards - whether it be ATL skills (IB Curriculum), ACARA capabilities (Australia), Common Core Standards, ISTE standards, NYC Information Fluency standards or another set of standards, or even a mix of any or all of these. 

We need to know what the students don't know or don't know how to do before we can start planning to move forward.

How ...???
  • Be prepared to be the leader in this. Do not wait for anyone else to do it, and do not be pushed out of the way.
  • Understand the process of strategic planning and what you want to achieve, be prepared to fail well, and be ready to move on. Think of how you will evaluate the process at the end, will it show evidence? What data will you collect that will add to your evidence that you are making a difference?
  • Know the standards you need to be working to - they will be the same ones your school uses, do not add anything else to the mix, do not go off on tangents. Use the same language and tools your teachers are using.
  • Start by asking the hard questions in bold above of yourself and your library program.
  • Know what standardised tests or other assessments are being conducted at your school, ask to look at the data across the board. Ask to be part of the planning or help to assess the work the students do. Analyse it to create meaning.
  • Ask questions of the assessments - break down the skill sets that are needed for students to complete them to a satisfactory level, then identify what was done well and what is weak. Identifying these skills, strategically plan with the classroom teachers to teach them specifically & strategically.
  • Start by collaborating with one teacher who is an ally and a supporter of your vision who is ready to learn as you go and make mistakes. Build it and they will come.
  • Have your Principal on board and supporting you.
  • Evaluate the journey - has it made a difference? How do you know? (see point 2 above)
  • Report and publish your journey and results widely in the school and the community.

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