Don’t miss part one of this series, Data in Education.
A data-rich school culture facilitates learning and achievements. Many essential moving parts of the educational machine must work in tandem to produce desired results.
Systematic data use and effective interactions create a culture that values and uses data to inform decisions including the allocation of resources, interventions, teacher development, differentiated instruction, and many others.
What is a data-rich culture?
Education is a field which creates a huge amount of data, so it is important to be prepared to make informed decisions. Gathering useful data, evaluating it to see the whole picture, and analyzing the meaning of the results is a difficult and complex process; however, educators need to develop a culture that embraces and effectively uses data to enhance teaching and student education. “Data-rich culture” means that in a data-rich environment, decisions at all levels within the school are supported by data.
Teachers should be aware of the positive effects of data use regarding what and how the student learns. Assessing a student’s background knowledge and skill level provides important information that guides instruction. In a data-rich culture, stakeholders engage in the process of using and sharing data to produce mutually desired results. Data is integral in stakeholders’ interactions and leads to effective discussions about policies and practices. Those discussions then turn into actions, thus creating a sustainable culture that effectively and efficiently uses data to make informed decisions.
In a data-rich culture, data constitutes more than just students’ exam results. In order to make good decisions based on data, the data must be solid and reliable. In such a culture, data-based decisions can be made in relation to planning and developing strategies, budgeting for education resources, designing programs and content, designing student activities, assessing teacher performance, providing staff development, and many other necessary decisions.
Creating a data-rich culture
The appropriate use of data is more complex than focusing on numbers. Accountability is the core component of a data-rich culture. Educators who work with data should identify the need for it, recognize their role as both data producers and users, be encouraged and authorized to use data, use it in decision-making processes, and set data collection and use policies.
To create a data-rich culture, the most important prerequisite is that the organization understand and believe in continuous improvement based on data, with the goal of putting that belief into practice. Using data effectively in schools is not a mechanical process, and should be combined with educators’ experiences, intuition, and teaching philosophies. Wise data use is continually informed by human experience.
The following steps should be taken for the creation of a data-rich culture:
- Data teams should be created.
Data teams should be implemented at both the district and the school level. At the district level, data teams can be created by data managers, instructional leaders, and others. At the school level, data teams should include a data champion (chairperson), principal or assistant principal, school-level data manager, special education coordinator and/or guidance counselor, department heads and/or lead teachers, literacy and mathematics coaches and teachers, as well as parents and students.
- Appropriate data collection tools should be used.
When educators use poor data (old data, data presented in confusing or inaccurate ways, etc.), they can draw incorrect conclusions about district, school, or student needs. Therefore, data collection tools are very important. Data collection tools should be appropriate for the goal of the school or district. Data collected through standardized tests is valuable for principals, policymakers, and stakeholders as it relates to a schools' performance and improvement efforts. However, such data may not be useful for teachers who want to specifically diagnose their students’ strengths, needs, and learning progress.
- Utilize multiple data sources.
Data should be collected from a variety of sources to provide triangulation, which makes data more reliable.
- Data should be appropriately analyzed and reported.
Technology provides great opportunities for data analysis. Thanks to technology, it is possible to make an advanced analysis of data based on the goal of the school or district. Appropriate analysis provides correct results. Data tools must be selected correctly, and data analyzed appropriately so it can be interpreted and reported correctly.
- Data interpretation should be made with the participation of all stakeholders.
Stakeholders should gain the skills needed to understand data collection and how it should be objectively interpreted. Resources available to support data literacy include workshops, books, online courses and professional learning communities.
- Action plans should result from data interpretation.
Stakeholders should share their ideas for short- and long-term objectives based on data.
- Lead a data-rich culture.
Leaders must develop data literacy and consider their purpose for gathering data, and should understand statistical concepts such as normal distribution and standard deviation. Leaders should know that in a data-rich culture, data is not limited to numbers. School leaders should also be aware that the creation of a data-rich culture takes time and requires data collection, definitions of good and bad data, interpretation, and many other aspects of working with data. Leaders should encourage stakeholders to work together on this creation process.
An educational system that effectively and consistently utilizes data to inform decisions can experience sustainable positive results. Consistently examining and selecting data, and implementing best practices for data collection, analysis, and dissemination, can help build and sustain a data-rich culture.