Data Culture in K-12 Education

This posting is a call to research in the extent of data use in K-12 education.  We need to get a firm understanding of this topic if schools are to improve.

After a successful testing and data administrator for a school district which saw significant score and growth improvements in the schools I focused on, I retired and became a consultant in educational data services. My impression was that I might be busy at my new-found job, offering service at a very reasonable price with the time to do the back-end work that many full-time staff do not have time to do as school district employees. The need was  over-estimated.

I know the elements of creating a robust data culture in an educational setting involves:

  • Data literacy,
  • Specific goals or intended outcomes for data use so the data is meaningful,
  • Access to data in a timely fashion using easy to use data tools,
  • Access to the right data which frequently requires joining various data sources for teachers,
  • A relationship of trust between administrators and teachers, and among teachers,
  • Time to examine the data and develop action plans to address district, school, and student needs.

Therefore, my mission is to provide the access to data, training in data literacy, and coaching on how to examine data to gain a deep understanding of implications of the data.  Analysis can be conceptualized as layers, such as:

  • What scores did the students receive?
  • How did this year’s overall proficiency and growth compare to last year’s performance?
  • How did the performance on sub-scores differ and did this have an impact on overall performance?
  • Why did this year’s students perform differently?
  • What can we do differently to improve student performance?

What I have seen is a superficial examination of data in schools, primarily focused on what scores the students received sliced and diced by content subjects and student subgroups. But is there ever really a deep analysis of the inter-relationships of previous student data, formative assessment data and its use, teacher actions, and student dispositions toward schooling and learning.

So what I am really advocating for is that each administrator examines the data culture in their district or school and contributes to the action research which is needed for data use. This action is needed in order that everyone stretches beyond the routine questions of “what”, to the all-important “why”, and most important “how” can we utilize data to improve student performance.

I welcome your comments.