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Ohio Data Primer

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Module 1: Tutorial—Where Are We?

As we collected numbers from tables and placed them on a simple bar graph, we asked ourselves questions about the meaning of the numbers and their relationships to each other. This happened naturally; we needed little prompting. Doing the asking while manipulating the numbers helped us see the relationships and understand them and, at the same time, gave us a context to sense how big differences are and whether they are meaningful.

Data are about differences. Differences are the central plots of the number stories that describe what we do and whether we are doing it well. In classrooms with real students and teachers, there are many complex stories. A few numbers cannot convey all of them. A picture, a graph, makes a better frame for the story.

The practice section of Module 1 provides a template into which you may enter numbers of your own choosing to describe the stories of your students or your classroom. Once you have entered a few numbers and labels, a bar graph will appear. You will see that it takes very little effort to do this. A few repetitions will convince you that graphs are more meaningful than tables of numbers and that the contrasts within and between graphs help make you more confident about using numbers. You will begin to feel comfortable judging the scale of the differences you observe. The numerical explorations of the practice section build a subtle knowledge of the data. This process is not dissimilar to how the experience of bowling changes a new bowler's perspective on the alley, her footwork, and wrist action—details and nuances that did not register before practice began.

Still, there are many stories in classrooms. To tell them, you will need more pieces of data. In addition, you will need to assemble those data into a richer set of pictures or graphs. Module 2 accelerates the building of data graphics by introducing three concepts: time, because students grow and learning accumulates as the calendar counts the days and months; floating-bar graphs to capture performance against a standard; and panels of graphs to enable multiple simultaneous comparisons.

Module 3 takes the methods of Module 2 and turns them inside out to focus on differences between individual students over time. It then uses the patterns of those differences as leverage to think about what instructional practices worked and did not.

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