The Instructional Literacy Coach's Role in the Data-Driven Decision Making Process in an Urban School

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Arthurs, Natalie Marie
MacDonald, Victoria-María
The current high-stakes testing environment has resulted in intense pressure on schools to build professional learning communities focused on data-driven decision-making (DDDM). As a result, schools and school districts are implementing systems where teachers, teacher leaders, and school leaders collaboratively analyze assessment data and use the results to inform instructional practice. One promising approach to providing teachers better guidance on using data to inform practice is the use of instructional coaches - master teachers who offer on-site and ongoing instructional support for teachers. Even though there are current studies on the various roles of instructional coaches, one prominent role that has rarely been examined is the instructional coaches' role in data-driven decision making. This qualitative case study examines the convergence of two popular school improvement policies: instructional coaching and data-driven decision making (DDDM). Building upon current large-scale research studies on DDDM as well as instructional coaching, this study examined how an instructional literacy coach in an urban, high-poverty, public charter middle school supports DDDM and how this support relates to teacher practices. Interviews, observations, and document/artifact analysis were utilized to inform this study. Findings show that while the instructional coach improves teachers' data use knowledge and skills, they also indicate that the coach's support had minimal impact on actual teaching practices. Findings also indicate that the coach possessed key attributes that deemed him `effective' in his support to teachers with DDDM: strong pedagogical and content expertise, which allowed him to gain the respect of teachers; strong interpersonal skills, which assisted him with building trusting relationships; and, a strong belief in the capacity of others to grow and develop, which helped him to develop teachers' self-efficacy. Furthermore, an analysis of the attributes of an effective instructional literacy coach may contribute to the way schools and school districts evaluate the effectiveness of their instructional coaches. Results of the study also have potential implications for federal and local policy on professional development for teachers, teacher leaders, and instructional coaches.