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Four Questions to Ask About Your Data: An Example from a Data Coaching Project with Boston Public Schools

Northeast & Islands | June 01, 2018

As part of our mission to advance the use of data in educational decision-making, REL Northeast & Islands provides customized training, coaching, and technical support to partners in the region seeking assistance with data use.

This past year, we collaborated with Boston Public Schools (BPS) to review and examine the data they collect as part of their New Teacher Development Program. Instituted over a decade ago, this program includes a mentoring program for first-year teachers, with the goal of providing them with the knowledge, skills, and support they need to strengthen their instructional practice and help students succeed.

District leaders approached the REL and asked us to partner with them to examine and assess the mentoring program. Our collaboration began with a logic model workshop, using materials from a Logic Model Workshop Toolkit that Karen created with our REL Northeast & Islands colleague Sheila Rodriguez. REL Northeast & Islands staff facilitated a training with BPS district staff and school-based mentors to collectively create a program logic model that would identify the resources they dedicate to the program, the activities that mentors and teachers do in the program, and the desired goals and outcomes for teachers and students.

Once the logic model was complete and clear outcomes were articulated, our discussions with BPS turned to data collection for the mentoring program. Four questions guided our conversations and could be used by any practitioner considering the data they need to answer questions about their programs:

  1. What data are you currently collecting about this program?
  2. Do these data align with the strategies you are implementing and the outcomes you are trying to achieve?
  3. Do the data help you answer the questions you have?
  4. If not, what new data could you collect to begin to answer those questions?

Our BPS partners found this process of considering and reviewing these questions to be an important first step before planning for data analysis to examine the outcomes of the mentoring program. The process helped ensure that current and future data-collection efforts are aligned to the program's goals and can accurately measure the program's activities and outcomes.

“We used something called a data considerations document that was provided by the REL team,” explains Jalene Tamerat, director of New Teacher Development for BPS and one of our partners on this project. “That was helpful. It allowed us to organize the data that existed, but also in a more direct way, think about what kind of data we need as we're moving through our process, not collect data for the sake of just collecting data anymore.”

This iterative and collaborative data coaching led to the following concrete actions related to the mentoring program data the district collected this past school year and plans to collect in future years:

  • BPS staff identified gaps in current data-collection efforts. They discovered they were administering multiple surveys to first-year teachers at multiple times throughout the year, but the surveys were not asking the necessary questions to capture all the data needed to assess and measure whether the program is achieving its goals.
  • BPS staff made changes to future data-collection efforts. They created a new survey for mentors to capture their experience of the program, added new questions to the teacher survey, eliminated surveys that were repetitive for new teachers, and developed a strategic data-collection plan for the future.

This process of identifying gaps in their current data-collection efforts and creating a strong data plan for the future—all tied to the goals and outcomes articulated in the program logic model—will allow BPS to conduct an evaluation in the future in order to improve their new-teacher mentoring program.

Contact us to learn more about REL Northeast & Islands training, coaching, and technical support for your state, district, or school.

Want to learn more about this project? Watch a short video to hear what BPS staff and REL Northeast & Islands researchers say about this work.


Kyle Demeo Cook

Kyle Demeo Cook

Karen Shakman

Karen Shakman

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