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Improving Student Outcomes Through Data-Driven Inquiry Cycle: A Protocol

Updated: Apr 2

Evidence-based student data should drive targeted teacher support.


That requires a focused and sustainable protocol.


The protocol described below, partnered with the Student Data Trends tracker, provides administrators, supervisors, and instructional leadership with a structured method for grounding coaching and professional development in student trends. The protocol provides Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) with a framework for analyzing student performance data, identifying patterns, and making informed decisions to better support teachers in their pedagogy and ultimately, student success.


The protocol reflects an alignment between District/School goals, student needs, and subsequent steps for teachers.


PLC Data Inquiry Protocol


Resources Needed:


Inquiry-Cycle Duration:

Ongoing process with regular PLC meetings (e.g., monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly).


Protocol Steps:
1. Ahead of the meeting
  • As a PLC, determine the skill that will be the focus of the inquiry cycle. In other words, what student skills or strategies will be analyzed and evaluated? The focus of inquiry drives the instructional decisions and pedagogy of each teacher, and therefore, should align to the needs of students as determined by performance or benchmark data. See Figure 1 above.

  • Individuals of the PLC identify the data collection instrument, also known as the student work. It might be an exam, a homework assignment, a check for understanding- this will be the data-point analyzed during the PLC meeting. For instance, if the PLC wants to analyze students ability to provide textual evidence, the data collection instrument could take the form of a short response. Irrespective of the specific question posed, each teachers' short response should unveil students' proficiency in identifying textual evidence. The data instrument that each teacher uses does not have to be the exact same, but needs to demonstrate student understanding of the same skill, enabling the identification of trends and patterns that emphasize specific strategies or skills during analysis.

  • For accountability purposes, the PLC inquiry leader should share ahead of time in an email to the PLC, the skill that will be analyzed. If the data has not been collected yet, individual PLC members are responsible for collecting it before the meeting.


2. During the meeting
  • As a PLC, review the gaps in student performance and how the focus of inquiry for this PLC meeting aligns with a skill or standard that will address one of those gaps.

  • Using the data collection instrument, PLC members individually engage in Student Data Trends tracker

    • Establish and share the number of minutes provided to complete the tracker. Set a timer.

      • Typically, the time required for completion can vary, between 25 to 45 minutes, contingent upon factors such as the data collection tool, caseload, and established meeting time.

    • Analyze student performance data to identify trends, strengths, and areas to provide targeted and individualized teacher support.

  • PLC members come back as a whole-group to debrief their findings, summarize key takeaways and share their next steps.

  • Each teacher shares out their 1-2 instructional strategies that they agree to consistently implement in their classroom. This information should be documented on the PLC agenda for accountability purposes..

  • Based on the findings of student-work, the focus of the next inquiry cycle is established. Will the focus remain the same? Can it change? This is dependent on how many cycles have been dedicated to a strategy or skill. I recommend at least two cycles be dedicated to a strategy or skill.

  • Confirm the date of the next inquiry cycle.

3. After the meeting
  • PLC members engage in next steps as identified on the tracker, documenting anecdotal and observational evidence to support proceeding inquiry meetings.

  • Determine who from the PLC team will communicate inquiry-cycle findings, goals, and next steps with leadership teams and teachers to create collective responsibility for supporting growth.


4. Ongoing
  • Encourage teachers to share evidence and examples that support growth of inquiry focus.

  • Encourage teachers to commit to their goals and discuss how they will be held accountable for their progress.

  • Establish a system for follow-up and check-ins with teachers.


Through the analysis of student data, supervisors can guide discussions and decision-making regarding teacher effectiveness in supporting student growth. They can analyze the data collected in the tracker to identify areas of strength and areas for growth among teachers. This information can then be used to develop targeted professional development opportunities and support for teachers. Supervisors can also use the document to track trends and progress over time, allowing for ongoing reflection and adjustment of instructional practices. Ultimately, the protocol promotes a collaborative and data-driven approach to evaluating student progress and teacher effectiveness, fostering professional growth, and ultimately improving student outcomes.


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