Teachers’ work with data walls and implications for students with disability funding

Year: 2019

Author: Gallagher, Jeanine, Spina, Nerida, Willis, Jill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) is an Australian Government policy that identifies eligible students with disability for the purpose of allocating funding. Predicated on the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Education (2005), this inaugural national policy’s stated aim is to resource the additional educational needs of students with disability to facilitate their access to, and participation in learning and whole-of-school activities.

The NCCD operates through an annual data collection process that relies on local school teams’ professional judgements about students with disability. To guide this process, teachers are required to collect evidence for a minimum of 10 weeks during the preceding 12-months (from the Australian Government August census date). This evidence of teacher actions is under four categories: first, the assessed needs of individual students; second, evidence of the educational adjustments being provided to the student; third, evidence of ongoing tracking, monitoring and review of adjustments; and finally, evidence of consultation and collaboration with families. Evidence of assessed individual needs includes school-based and standardised assessments over time that document ongoing learning and/or socio-emotional needs; responses to targeted interventions; parent reports; specialist and medical reports or profiles.

This presentation draws on data collected as part of a doctoral project that uses institutional ethnography in an inquiry about how the NCCD policy is shaping teachers’ everyday work. A key aim was to find out how teachers’ work is “hooked into” the requirements of the NCCD texts, in what Dorothy E. Smith (2007) describes as “textually coordinated” actions. This research identified that teachers spend significant time collecting evidence for the NCCD using a range of evidence to support their judgements. The evidence work did not always align with the NCCD’s suggested data collection processes, with data walls one of the unanticipated forms of evidence. This finding has significance, as data walls are outside of the four types of evidence outlined by the NCCD procedures, and evidence underpins decisions about which students with disability are included in the data count. When data walls are being used for an unexpected purpose (to inform eligibility for NCCD), school leaders and policy makers must consider how to avoid unintended consequences, such as imputing students with a disability. Questions about repurposing data, and concepts of validity and equity also have implications for wider assessment theory and practice.