Data Literacy for Educators: Making it Count in Teacher Preparation and Practice
reviewed by Kara Mitchell Viesca - February 14, 2017
Title: Data Literacy for Educators: Making it Count in Teacher Preparation and Practice
Author(s): Ellen B. Mandinach & Edith S. Gummer
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807757535, Pages: 174, Year: 2016
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Ellen B. Mandinach and Edith S. Gummers Data Literacy for Educators: Making it Count in Teacher Preparation and Practice is a short volume consisting of eight chapters. Despite its economical length, the book offers three strong contributions for moving teacher preparation forward in adopting data literacy practices more widely: a clear definition and framework for data literacy; strong arguments illustrating the difference between data literacy and assessment literacy; and a consistent insistence that data for data literacy be comprehensively understood (e.g., collected student data consists of more than just test scores).
The first major contributions of this book are its definition of data literacy and its description of a data literacy framework. In their introductory pages, Mandinach and Gummer describe data literacy practices for teachers as using data effectively and appropriately (p. 14). They also highlight that, [t]hroughout this book, we have emphasized that data literacy for teachers integrates the use and the translation of data to information with teaching practices (p. 91). The volume offers suggestions on how teachers should use data efficiently and appropriately. It also focuses on how data literacy should impact teaching practices.
Beyond this definition, Chapter Three includes a description of a data literacy framework that is particularly impactful. This framework is both complex and simple. Mandinach and Gummers presentation of the elements of data literacy is similarly both comprehensive and accessible. Their framework suggests the need for expansive knowledge to be used in conjunction with data use. The authors conceptualize data literacy as including content knowledge, curriculum knowledge, knowledge of educational ends, general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of educational contexts, purposes with values, knowledge of learners, and knowledge of learners characteristics. With all of these different types of knowledge, teachers can ideally integrate meaningful data for effectively making decisions. The authors frame the use of data as an inquiry cycle that includes identifying framing questions, transforming data into information, transforming information into decisions, evaluating outcomes, and restarting the cycle. Each aspect of this inquiry cycle is explored in depth. The presentation of this framework is thoughtful, expansive, and useful. The framework is also presented in a way that should be valuable for educators and policy makers at various levels.
An additional strength of this text is the clarity it provides in illustrating the differences between data literacy and assessment literacy. Along the same vein, Mandinach and Gummer believe that assessment literacy is only a small part of data literacy. They successfully argue that data collection, use, and analysis to inform teaching should not just include test scores, but also involve qualitative observational data. The authors even provide an example of teachers who do not realize they are using data to inform their teaching because it is such a natural and expansive part of their practice. This is in sharp contrast to the belief that data literacy is simply the act of engaging in quantitative work and crunching numbers.
The third important point that Mandinach and Gummer make is that data use in schools must be expansive, including both qualitative and quantitative work. Data literate educators are teachers who look at test scores, but also examine data regarding student motivation, learner engagement, etc. This becomes increasingly important as our accountability models focus more on numbers and what is easy to measure. The perspectives shared in the book concerning data literacy suggest that this type of literacy requires formal and informal practices that are both obvious and implicit. These comprehensive ways of discussing data literacy are important and useful.
Despite these strong contributions to the field, Data Literacy for Educators has some problematic aspects that make it difficult to accomplish its stated goal: to make data literacy count in teacher preparation and practice. The first major issue is its inconsistency and lack of data to support many of the assertions made by the authors. The second issue is its deficit perspective of teacher educators and schools of education that is promoted throughout the book. By doing this, the authors risk insulting an audience they do not belong to and most likely intend to reach with their volume, namely teacher educators.
An example of the inconsistency issue is illustrated by an emphasis on Arne Duncans perspective to justify the need for data to drive decisions. For example, Duncan is cited 10 times in one section alone (p. 65) as support for the argument that policy makers think that using data to drive decisions is important. Not only is Duncan arguably excessively cited to make this point, but if we applied the thoughtful data literacy principles from the authors framework to evaluate this claim, this argument falls flat. Additionally, the study on schools of education discussed in Chapter Five is missing a clear description of the data used to reach its conclusions. For data literate readers, this inconsistency with the absence of supporting data, while also arguing for data literacy, decreases the potential impact of the text.
Another inconsistency in the book is the divide between assessment and data literacy. Mandinach and Gummer state that one of the purposes of the text is to clearly define a previously undefined construct, specifically data literacy. The authors then show repeated examples where data literacy is not present or is confused with assessment literacy. To me, this represents an inconsistent perspective. If the authors are offering a newly defined construct, why do they expect that people in the field already have a clear sense of its meaning? Their work is valuable in at least one way. Specifically, defining data literacy and demonstrating its distinct nature from assessment literacy are both useful. However, the way educators across the board are disparaged for not already having this knowledge is a turn-off as a reader.
One persistently negative message that Mandinach and Gummer convey is the second major issue of the book. Teacher educators and schools of education are presented as incapable and extremely problematic actors. Assuming that these are the people who are going to incorporate data literacy practices in teacher preparation, it becomes a serious flaw of the text to be so overtly negative towards its intended audience. The authors present an extremely disparaging view of teacher preparation and teacher educators, particularly within schools of education. This includes the choice of four different teacher preparation programs made in Chapter Five and the pessimistic rhetoric across the entire volume. One example is the repeated statement that most professors working in teacher preparation programs do not know about data literacy and cannot teach it. Similarly, if the notion of data literacy is only emerging and being defined in this text as noted earlier, it seems strange to assume widespread expertise on this newly defined concept. However, considering the close link that data literacy has with being an expert researcher and practitioner, which many professors in teacher preparation programs in more traditional settings like schools of education already are, it comes across as both patronizing and disparaging to suggest that scholars in schools of education cannot teach data literacy.
To further compound this deficit perspective of teacher educators and schools of education, the authors present a monolithic view of teacher preparation and how it should be changed to include data literacy. Particularly striking is Mandinach and Gummers lack of expertise regarding the complex challenges and opportunities that exist in teacher preparation. For example, the suggestion to collaborate with schools and other stakeholders comes across as condescending and simplistic. Also, the notion of collaboration between schools of education and local schools is not new. In fact, it is a major conversation in todays teacher preparation circles. However, a nuanced understanding of the various opportunities and challenges that make such work possible and prevent it from occurring in ideal ways is missing.
Overall, the book offers something valuable to the educational field, including teacher educators. Specifically, it includes a strong definition of data literacy and a clear framework that can be built upon. However, the goal of Data Literacy for Educators, as stated in the title, falls short due to some of the issues and challenges described above.