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Data Coaching in Puerto Rico: Reflecting on and Celebrating the Work

Sheila Rodriguez

Sheila Rodriguez
Research Associate, REL Northeast & Islands

Tue Nov 02 2021

Co-authored by Cerelle Morrow and Sandra Espada from REL Northeast & Islands

Four years ago, REL Northeast & Islands and the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) established the Puerto Rico Research Partnership to Promote the Use of Education Data . The goal was to help data coaches, district leaders, and PRDE administrators build a culture of data use, use available data to make instructional decisions, and improve the quality of existing data. Since that time, Puerto Rico was hit with destructive hurricanes in 2017, earthquakes in 2018/19, and the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which have greatly affected the island's educational system. Yet, despite these immense challenges, data coaches in Puerto Rico have forged ahead with their work to strengthen their education system. This blog explores their accomplishments and successes over the past four years.

Building Capacity to Use Data: 2017–2019

The first step PRDE took after launching the Partnership was to hire data coaches—a brand new role—and train them to support schools and teachers in using data for lesson planning and to differentiate instruction (see previous blog to learn more). Next, REL Northeast & Islands began working closely with the data coaches in 2018, delivering a number of workshops focused on building their capacity to support data inquiry cycles in schools. These initial workshops conducted in the second year were designed to build the capacity of PRDE's pilot group of data coaches to lead the work across the islands.

Once these sessions were completed, the Partnership, in collaboration with PRDE leadership, further expanded the audience of the trainings to include additional educators from the seven educational regions of the PRDE. The focus of these sessions, offered in Spanish in 2019, was to support the regional teams in developing their data use skills further and building their capacity to create a culture of data use in their regions.

Building a Culture of Data Use Island-wide: 2020–2021

The next iteration of this work focused on developing a data use guide that could support a culture of data use across the island. This work began in 2020 and included the regional data teams. In response to the pandemic, REL Northeast & Islands had shifted to virtual training sessions. With the REL's support, the teams began to develop a data use guide that outlined best practices in creating a culture of data use and tools and resources for educators implementing a collaborative data inquiry process.

After completing the draft data use guide, the teams piloted the guide and collected additional feedback, using a continuous improvement process. They completed the pilot implementation this past spring, and the data coaches met this past summer to analyze the pilot data, discuss next steps, and develop an action plan for the 2021/22 school year.

Reflections on Data Coaching

Throughout all this work, and despite the hurdles of hurricanes, earthquakes, and a global pandemic, the data coaches were resilient and eager to continue advancing their work. As this project is coming to a close, we asked some of them to reflect on how it has contributed to their growth and understanding of data use. Here is what two data coaches said:

  • "My participation in the data guide project has been an enriching one. It offered me the opportunity to look at the data differently than I used to. I used to look at it just to see if it went right or wrong, and now I look at it in a way that allows me to identify opportunities for student growth. This element has contributed greatly to the way I serve teachers because I can help them change their teaching practices just by analyzing the data deeply."
  • "Creating a culture of using and making decisions based on data is important to identify areas of academic opportunity for students. In this way, the decisions made by the school community will benefit to increase academic achievement and decrease the factors that jeopardize academic achievement and school processes."

Another data coach reflected on the last few years of this project and the changes they hope to see:

  • "It is important for principals and teachers alike to base decision making on data analysis. Doing so directs the teaching and learning process and teaching strategies for the benefit of students. Students' academic strengths and weaknesses must be identified in order to make gains. I promote that principals prepare data dashboards in their schools to inform the school community about academic achievement behavior."

Since the data coach initiative launch, our REL Northeast & Island team has observed Puerto Rico's educators embrace data use to help their students achieve their goals. The assessment director from PRDE concurred:

  • "It's rewarding to have directors call or email my office requesting information they need to make decisions for their schools. They want to make decisions based on data for their work plans, teachers' professional development, and the needs of students. Knowing we are empowering educators to use data to help students—these are the happiest times for me."

Future Data Coaching Plans

PRDE data coaches plan to provide professional learning sessions that focus on implementing the data use guide island-wide. We believe that this work will help PRDE ultimately achieve the long-term outcome of improving student performance based on educators' ability to use data to plan, differentiate, and deliver instruction. To learn more about the data coaching work in Puerto Rico, visit the Puerto Rico Research Partnership to Promote the Use of Education Data.