By Minnesota Fellow Glen Gilderman

Have you watched any Major League Baseball lately?  If you have, you’ve seen a major change in the way things are done.  It started about eight years ago when the Tampa Bay Rays shifted their shortstop to the right side when David Ortiz was up to bat.  The Rays were using the collection of how Ortiz had hit in the past to predict where he would hit that day.  That seems to make a lot of sense.  It took awhile to catch on because in all the years baseball has been around, the infield would line up pretty much the same for every batter.  Sometimes a infielder would move a little toward the line because they had played against a certain player so many times, they knew they had a tendency to hit to certain places.  It was more of a gut feeling, but some players were really good at moving a little.  

Now, almost all teams use data on where each player hits to determine where their players will play on defense.  Interestingly, they’ve found that when a player tries really hard to “hit it where they ain’t”, a common baseball expression, they strike out or pop up much more frequently.

In a way, education is in the same position.  While teachers have an understanding of  what we can do to help a certain student, we haven’t always had the tools to know which students need help in specific areas.  Now that we are getting data from Computer Adapted Assessments like NWEA, a math and reading assessment that measures academic progress two to three times a year, we can actually use that data to pinpoint how we can help our students.

I teach Psychology, Government and Geography to juniors and seniors in high school. One thing my district is struggling a bit with is the overwhelming feeling of how to organize and use the data.  Some of us feel a little lost in the data.  I recently had a conversation with a colleague and my principal about that feeling.

So back to the baseball analogy:

When a batter approaches the plate, how do all of the players know where they are supposed to go?  How does the 3rd baseman know that, for this batter, he needs to move over to the shortstop’s position?  Someone is in charge of telling the players that the data says they need to shift.  If it was left up to each of the players to know, this shifting could be a disaster.  What if the 3rd baseman knew the data and shifted to the shortstop position, right next to the short stop?  If the shortstop didn’t know the data, or didn’t believe in the data, he might tell the 3rd baseman to move back to his spot.  If they were both stubborn, they could end up standing right next to each other, wasting a player who could help their team win.  This could be happening all over the field.

In education our use of data needs to evolve.  

As with almost everything in our field, collaboration between administration and teachers will help in this evolution.  As a teacher of 150 secondary students, I need someone to help me interpret the data for each of my students and provide me with information on how to “shift” for each student.  If it’s left up to each teacher to interpret the data and decide what to do with it, you could end up like that dysfunctional baseball team.  One of the most important duties of our educational leaders like principals and data coaches is to help the teachers know how to shift their teaching to help all of our students succeed.  That way we all win!   We get to continue to use the hunches we’ve relied on to help our students, but now we can do this in a much more efficient and logical way.

As an educator, I look forward to this evolution.  It’s exciting to think that I could directly help a student progress academically using data to help with that task.  It’s even more exciting knowing that all the time students are taking to do an assessment will be useful and worthwhile!

Glen Gilderman has been teaching and coaching for 26 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from The College of St. Scholastica in 1987, and his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 1997 in Teaching Students with Emotional & Behavioral Disorders. He taught EBD in Duluth for four years in residential treatment centers, and then returned to his hometown to teach Social Studies. He taught middle school for 15 years and has taught juniors and seniors at Proctor High school for the past seven years. He teaches psychology, sociology, government, economics and geography. He coaches numerous sports and is the Head Coach of the girl’s Ice Hockey team. In 2006, he authored a book about middle school parenting entitled, Managing Middle School Madness - Taking the Wonder Out of the Wonder Years (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing).