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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

September 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

What does data-driven mean? Maybe not what you think

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Mark Gardner

A few weeks back, we asked you to tell us what education jargon frustrates, exasperates or confuses you — and we got a long list, everything from alignment to value-added.

Then we asked some of our state’s most talented educators  ones who have earned the prestigious National Board Certification  to come up with some plain-spoken definitions.

Today, we feature responses from one of them: Mark Gardner, a high school English teacher from the Camas School District in southwest Washington and a blogger for Stories from School, a project of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, a nonprofit dedicated to building a strong teaching force in Washington state.

See Gardner’s full bio below.  But first — the definitions.

Gardner selected three terms — TPEP, data driven, and cognitive rigor.

Data driven: As an English teacher, I’ve railed against using numbers to quantify a very context-driven and qualitative skill (literacy). Now, though, I realize that “data driven” simply means “information driven.” I don’t teach what I teach just because it is what the curriculum says or what I feel like that day, “data driven” means I teach what I teach because the information students give me (from assignments and tests) tells me that’s what they need.

Cognitive rigor: Rigor sounds so post-mortem. The cognitive part, though, is all about the thinking that I am asking my students to practice. Rigor, to me, is challenge. Further, challenge means complexity. I prefer the term “cognitive complexity.” I don’t want my students to be simple thinkers. I want them to be able to tackle challenges and tasks of high cognitive complexity  not simply knowing information, but being able to do something meaningful with what they know.

TPEP TPEP stands for Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project and refers to the ways that teacher and principal job evaluations are changing in school districts across the state. To me, it simply means a way of clarifying what good teaching practice can look like, and helps me achieve it. We know that in our classrooms, for our kids to be successful, we must clearly define our expectations and help them chart their growth toward (and beyond) those expectations. In the same way, through how my district is putting TPEP into place, TPEP is helping me grow as a teacher.

Gardner’s bio: I teach high school English two periods per day and work the rest of my day as a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) developing teacher capacity and strengths to improve student learning. This is my 13th year of teaching, and this is the job from which I plan to retire — after another couple dozen years.

Want to contribute your own jargon definition? Pick your favorite term and send a one- or two-sentence definition to We might include it on the Education Lab blog at a future date.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, jargon, Mark Gardner


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