Data, Deliberation, and Decision Making about Mathematics: School Districts Respond to Common Core State Standards in Mathematics

Project: Research project

Project Details


As more and more states adopt Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M), school district leaders nationwide are making decisions about new instructional materials and assessments, how to support teachers in learning new instructional approaches, and how to reorganize and re-sequence content. As such, CCSS-M presents an important moment to investigate when, under what conditions, and how district leaders use data in their decisionmaking.

Existing research on data use pays little attention to the district level (Coburn & Turner, 2012). The research that does focuses mainly on identifying districts with promising approaches to data use and describing what they do (e.g. Datnow et al., 2007; Supovitz, 2006; Wayman, 2007). These studies do not investigate social processes of data use: what happens when leaders engage with data during these activities (Coburn & Bueschel, 2012). Furthermore, few studies collect longitudinal and observational data necessary to capture the microprocesses of interpretation and deliberation (Little, 2012). Consequently, most existing research fails to address how district leaders interpret data and use these interpretations in deliberation and decisionmaking processes.

We propose to investigate the process of data use at the district level through secondary analysis of data collected as San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) planned for the CCSS-M. We will analyze observational and video data, interview transcripts, and documents to investigate when and how data entered into discussions of CCSS-M, the dynamics of interpretation and negotiation about the meaning and implications of data, and the consequences for key decisions. We define data as “collections of descriptive indicators of social conditions, policy processes, and outcomes” (Henig, 2012, p. 5). We will attend to district use of measures of student outcomes (e.g., standardized test scores, dropout rates), school outcomes (e.g., accountability measures), implementation (e.g., teacher evaluations of professional development), and input data (e.g., demographics).

This study links to Spencer’s emphasis on organizational learning by providing insight into the social processes by which data informs systems learning and change. It also complements the Evidence for the Classroom Initiative by investigating microprocesses at a level of the system with different work practices, social organization, and political pressures. This contrast enables deeper understanding of how data use processes are influenced by their social, political and organizational contexts.

Literature Review

This proposed study builds on our earlier efforts to investigate evidence use among district leaders. Coburn has shown that district-level decisionmaking is, at root, a social process of interpretation, negotiation, and persuasion (Coburn et al., 2009). Evidence does not speak for itself. Rather, people actively make meaning of it, constructing implications for action. People with different status and authority have differential influence in negotiations about meaning and implications, with consequences for districts’ strategic direction (Coburn et al., 2008). Farrell builds on this work, demonstrating that evidence-based practices shape and are shaped by organizational and institutional contexts (Farrell, under review).

While our earlier work uncovered the role of authority relations in interpretation and deliberation, it did not investigate other dimensions of social interaction. For example, other scholars suggest interactional norms (Horn et al.,
Effective start/end date3/1/1512/31/18


  • Spencer Foundation (Grant #201500139)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.