Reducing the load - part two: How consistency helps teachers save time on data collection and analysis
In our previous blog post, we discussed how great results can be achieved through informed action, which depends on insightful analysis based on accurate data. At Ark, our goal is to minimise the time spent on data collection and analysis, leaving more time for action. We are still on a journey towards achieving this goal, but we believe the following three levers can make a big difference: Technology, Consistency and Scale.
Last time, we focused on how we use technology to minimise workload. This time, we will focus on consistency…
Data analysis is fundamentally about comparison, but comparisons are only meaningful when they are like-for-like. Much time is wasted in schools across the country trying to compare data that is in fact not comparable. This is one of the reasons why Ark has established a common framework for assessment.
This assessment framework includes a common model for assessment. Grades across different subjects and schools fundamentally mean the same thing and targets set across these subjects and schools are similarly aspirational. This removes the need for time-consuming caveats and adjustments when analysing this data. This model is underpinned by common assessments and rubrics. When all students take the same test at the same point in time, it is much easier to compare their results with confidence – and increased confidence means decreased time spent making adjustments and allowances. Another essential part of managing down workload is to limit the calendar of graded assessments to the same three windows per year – in line with recommendations from the DfE’s working group of teacher workload. This is not to say that formative assessments shouldn’t happen more frequently. On the contrary, these are an essential part of the daily feedback loop between students and their teachers. However, by recognising the fundamental difference between these regular checks for understanding and less frequent reviews of cumulative learning, we hope to eradicate the workload previously associated with lesson-by-lesson grading.
One of the biggest benefits of consistency is that it breeds familiarity, thus removing the need to reinvent the wheel. This is why Ark has established a common approach to analysing our data, by looking at an agreed set of measures via a consistent set of dashboards. It is often assumed that dashboards need to be highly simplified in order to be effective, and there is obviously some truth to this. However, basic simplification comes at a cost – since the insights we need often require us to cut the data in different ways. Consistency allows us to break this trade-off. Most teachers are more than capable of learning how to read a particular dashboard – even if it contains multiple data points, but it isn’t feasible for them to re-learn every time they see a different dashboard. Ark uses many dashboards, but they all adhere to one of a small number of layouts. Therefore, even if a teacher has not seen a particular dashboard before, they still know what’s on the left or right, what blue means relative to red, and how to drill-down to see a list of underlying students. This applies across all key stages and even across different types of data – so once a teacher can understand a KS1 dashboard, they can also understand a KS5 dashboard, or even an attendance dashboard.
Now that we have looked at Technology and Consistency, next time we will discuss how Scale can also help reduce teacher workload…
Rich Davies is Ark’s Head of Data. He splits his time between mining Ark’s data for actionable insights and developing Ark’s in-house data tools, enabling staff across the school network to develop their own data insights. Prior to joining Ark, Rich was a Strategy Consultant at the Boston Consulting Group.
Daisy Christodoulou is Head of Assessment at Ark, where she works on assessment reform, replacements for national curriculum levels and readiness for new national exams. Previously, she was Research and Development Manager at Ark. She is the author of Seven Myths about Education and Making Good Progress? The future of Assessment for Learning.