Data in Education

Part One of Two

By Iris Garner, National Research Consultant

Think of educational data as a machine that receives and uses inputs to help run the educational process, producing outputs that include things like progress, success, and achievement. Data use depends on critical inputs from the parent, teacher, student, district, and state.

Specific data inputs can include everything from teacher quality to student demographics, while specific data outputs include things like attendance, grades, assessment scores, and graduation rates.

“Data in education has huge potential to improve learning materials.”
– Jose Ferreira

When data is interpreted effectively, it can be used to understand individual student needs and employ strategies to differentiate instruction. Data analysis helps teachers understand their students’ learning abilities and challenges, and facilitates an ingrained cultural process that uses detailed inputs (information) to ensure optimal outputs (results for students).

Here are a few of the many types of data that may be collected to provide a teacher with information on any individual student:

Types of Data

Term Description Stakeholder(s)
Assessments Evaluation of learning and ability. Pre- and post- assessments help to plan instruction and interventions and make improvements. Formative assessment summarizes the student’s development at a particular time. Summative assessment includes end of year exams or state standardized tests. Since they are administered at the end of the year, it is difficult to use their data for planning instruction. Teachers administer, and students participate. Parents, teachers, and students review and discuss progress/improvement.
Attendance Number of days present and absent. Years of attendance at school. Teachers record daily attendance.
Behavior Actions of a person based on the environment and/or interaction with others. Data includes disciplinary records, report cards, and behavioral assessments. Teachers record student behavior.
Benchmarks National assessments, state high-stakes tests, district level assessments, SAT and ACT scores, etc. Schools use benchmarks to create best practices.
Classwork Graded assignments completed in the classroom during the school day. Teachers assign classwork and record grades.
Demographics Age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, address, parent level of education, income, etc. Parents and students provide demographic data to school.
Grades Grades may be number, letter, or level score that depicts student learning score. Teachers record grades in gradebook and include on progress reports/report cards.
Health Data includes health records (immunizations), counseling, medical conditions, and history. Parents and pediatricians provide this data to the school.
Homework Graded and/or practice assignments to be completed at home. Teachers assign, grade, and record completed homework.
Investment Resources allocated for intervention programs, cost per student, and after school programs. Schools, districts, and states provide funding to invest in programs to improve student success.
Leadership Leadership may include teacher and administration experience, education, and achievements. Administrators (school, state, and federal).
Observation Annotated behaviors and perspectives based on careful student and/or teacher examination. Teachers record student observations. Administrators observe teachers.
Participation Level of engagement from student. Participation in after school programs and extracurricular activities. Use of academic and social support services. Participation in AP classes. Teachers record level of participation.
Quizzes Quick and informal test of knowledge given to students. Teachers administer quizzes.
Results Results may include grade point averages, graduation rates, and college acceptances. Student results are recorded and reported to schools, state, and federal systems.
Socio-economic Relating to or concerned with the interaction of social and economic factors. Parents provide economic data. Teachers and parents provide information on social interactions.
Tests Standardized and/or non-standardized assessment of knowledge and capabilities. Teachers administer tests and record the scores for reporting.

Source: Wikipedia

Schools use data from parents, students, classroom, and teacher to assess the success of the school (teacher performance, test scores, graduation rates, etc.) and to allocate resources where needed. Schools then provide data to their district, which facilitates comparative analytics across cities and regions.

"School districts are required to maintain comprehensive longitudinal student databases complete with information including attendance, demographics, mobility, discipline, state test scores, course enrollment, and grades earned in courses. Data systems created by districts are only useful in transforming schools when they provide meaningful data stakeholders can use to raise questions, identify issues, and make informed decisions."
(Schmoker, 2008)

District data helps administrators to understand overall demographics and academic performance. Data allows districts to identify the schools that need more resources versus the schools that may need different programming.

State and federal systems also use data to make informed choices related to district learning gaps, funding, and overall state needs. Federal and state systems create legislation, policies, and goals based on data patterns. Data received from districts and states helps lawmakers create and enforce standards and regulations to meet the academic, socio-emotional, and safety needs of all students and teachers.

Best Practices

Data-based decision-making encourages innovation and differentiation to improve student outcomes. To ensure optimal data-informed decisions, the suggestions below provide best practices on educational data usage.

  • Collect accurate and timely data.
    • Real-time data collection facilitates differentiation and interventions.
    • Assessments provide opportunities for corrective instruction and demonstration of understanding.
    • Formative assessments provide real-time data that can help with quick customization.
    • Summative assessments provide end-of-term and/or -year data that may help teachers understand learning and/or gaps.
  • Ensure data accuracy.
    • Teachers and administrators need professional development and training to collect, evaluate, and use data effectively (research, collection, validity, relevance, etc.).
    • Teachers and administrators need time to collaborate and learn from one another.
  • Ensure easy access and understanding of data.
    • Data should be easy to obtain and interpret. Graphics, definitions, and other quick links, snapshots, summaries, etc. all facilitate data comprehension.
    • Consistent communications regarding data provide transparency and facilitate the execution of necessary changes.
    • Ongoing feedback loops between students and teachers, teachers and parents, and teachers and school administrators are critical to the communication process of engagement with and accountability for learning goals.
  • Provide ongoing training and allow sufficient time for teachers and administrators to build and improve data literacy skills.


Data usage enables more effective evaluation of programs, resources, and interventions to facilitate student, school, and district success. State and federal systems also use data to create legislation that focuses on student achievement, progress, and meeting the specific needs of the state and district.

Understanding data terms and the role of data is critical to ensuring the systemic functionality and cultural integration of data usage for student and school achievements. Data collection, accuracy, analysis, and interpretation facilitate the identification of accomplishments and interventions to ensure students’ academic needs are met.

Because data is omnipresent, it must also be objectively reviewed and analyzed to communicate accurate information. The information should be cross-functionally shared with teachers, parents, administrators, and district leaders to ingrain the value of data into the cultural operations of the educational system. Collectively, these systems work to benefit the overall success of district, state, and federal systems.

Read the second article in this series: Building a Data-Rich Culture.

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About the Guest Author

Iris Garner
National Research Consultant,
Learning A-Z

Dr. Iris Garner is a National Research Consultant at Learning A-Z. She has worked in many facets of education including assessment, elementary, leadership, policy, reading intervention, and research. Prior to joining the Learning A-Z team, she worked at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as a Policy Consultant and as the North Carolina Nation’s Report Card Representative. As a North Carolina Guardian ad Litem and Education Policy National Fellow, she continues to advocate for children and promote educational justice and student achievement.

Tarece Johnson

Dr. Tarece Johnson holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership & Management, an MBA from Emory University, an MPA from Columbia University, and a BA from La Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico. She founded The Global Purpose Approach, a consulting firm focusing on diversity education, and co-founded the Peninsula International Academy in Belize.



Our Guest Author Series features insights and ideas from experts across Learning A-Z, as well as educators who have extensive experience using Learning A-Z products in the classroom.

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