The Forks – The Forks rely on their ‘valid and reliable’ prongs to pull out only what they consider the meat and potatoes of student learning. They are most interested in objective measures that are easy to quantify, sort, and color code. Forks tend to rely heavily on standardized single measures such as DIBELS or state-wide assessment reports. Forks are highly efficient and can make a color-coded Excel sheet that is sure to impress.
New or less experienced coaches tend to rely on a Fork approach mostly due to their limited experience with other data measures. The tangible aspects of a Fork approach may also provide a sense of control because this type of data is easier to collect, report, and compare. Unfortunately, sometimes this data is also the easiest to manipulate and misinterpret.
A coach who favors a Fork approach to literacy data would see no problem with monitoring students' reading growth through just DIBELS scores alone. They efficiently group students into RTII groups based solely on DIBELS scores and focus their coaching work on increasing DIBELS scores.
This approach is problematic because coaches put all of their emphasis on increasing DIBELS scores rather than focusing on improving literacy. In this example, it is common to see DIBELS scores increase, however other measures of literacy stay the same or even decrease. When coaches do not see their increased DIBELS scores translate into increases in other literacy measures, they can become frustrated and confused.
The Spoons - The Spoons scoop up anything and everything! They don’t mind subjective data and if the truth be told, they love it. From anecdotal records to work samplings, Spoons can make a portfolio out of anything! While the Forks tend to focus on snap-shots, Spoons like to look at the entire photo album. They focus their time on reviewing student work and can be found chanting the mantra, “Students are more than a number.”
Coaches who favor a spoon approach to data are often experienced coaches who are confident in their ability to make accurate and reliable judgments based on their own hunches and professional intuition. They view standardized measures as cold and impersonal and believe that all teachers have the skills to accurately and objectively measure their students' achievement levels.
A coach who assumes a Spoon approach to literacy data is confident in monitoring students' reading growth through running records alone. With this approach, it is quite common to find discrepancies between teacher-scored reading levels and standardized reading measures. Spoons are often left wondering why the subjective data is showing that students are reading at grade level, while standardized reading measures are telling a different story.
The Sporks – Like a true spork, these coaches embrace the best of both forks and spoons. They recognize that rich data sometimes needs scooped up while there are some data-nuggets that can only be grabbed with prong. What I love about Sporks is this – They are thoughtful, experienced coaches that are intentional in how they collect, share, and analyze data. They are not defined by one tool or measure, rather they define new tools and new ways of using tools to really make sense of data. Sporks are THINKERS - they know when to scoop and when to poke. Sporks naturally triangulate multiple data-points and cannot be seduced by facy graphs alone. They recognize that multiple measures, when looked at together and over time, help us to truly make sense of data.
A coach who utilizes a Spork approach to looking literacy data may consider DIBELS scores as well as subjective data such as running records and writing samples when grouping students for RTII. They do not merely look at students' DIBELS scores to make decisions about students, nor do they exclude the DIBELS performance. Sporks would analyze students' DIBELS assessment booklets much like they would analyze other literacy measures, noting patterns of error, the types of mistakes that students are making, and the distinct difference between accuracy issues versus automaticity issues.
Of course, these descriptions are grossly over-generalized. But my point is this - –as coaches, we cannot over-rely on any one type of data. When we favor hard-tangible data, we lose subjective yet rich data regarding student learning. And when we depend too much on subjective data, we run the risk of lowering our expectations. In order to create a well-balanced data system, effective coaches blend both the Fork approach and Spoon approach. For an excellent resource to help school leaders build well-balanced systems based on multiple measures, check out The Data Coach's Guide to Improving Learning for All Students: Unleashing the Power of Collaborative by Nancy Love et al.