Fostering a data-rich culture
K12 districts and decision makers recognize the importance of leveraging educational data to make informed decisions that support student academic success.
Congressional leaders regularly request educational data to apprise them on statewide policies impacting pre-school through higher education organizations. K12 district leaders know that the benefits of gathering educational data are wide ranging—from helping to track student improvement to monitoring specific yearly financial expenditures. School leaders and educators also recognize the value data provide in identifying responses to intervention and effectively using the information to track student academic progress, personalize learning and evaluate instructional practices. In addition, educators are increasingly aware of the role that data serve in the regular feedback process between them and their students. Students and their parents, who are constantly connected through digital devices, are accessing data to monitor learning trajectories and set respective learning goals.
Being aware of the benefits of data and accessing it is one facet, but to use educational data effectively, districts must foster a culture that both appreciates and trusts how the information can inform teaching and learning decisions. Students, educators, and schools leaders must learn how to use data and possess the appropriate skills to employ the information effectively toward the ultimate goal of increasing student success.
However, with all of the requirements, there are few resources available that help school leaders handle the immense classroom-level data.
One resource now available to support educators and district leaders is Closing the Gap: Turning SIS/LMS Data into Action—a joint project between the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), with support from Gartner. The project, which supports CoSN’s Data-Driven Decision Making leadership initiative, provides district-level technology leaders with the tools (including a free professional development toolkit) and necessary know-how to best review, procure and deploy solutions to maximize their positive impact on instructional planning and practice.
It is also critical for educators to learn best practices from districts with proven success in fostering a data-driven culture. There are several districts that have successfully implemented data systems to enhance learning—many of which are showcased in Closing the Gap:
- Fairfax County Public Schools (Va.), where, for 11 years, the district has invested in transitioning to a data-driven environment.
- Ft. Bend Integrated School District (Texas), where system and process integration now contribute to more closely aligning curriculum with test results.
- Henry County Schools (Ga.), where a partnership between technology and curriculum leaders and educators is addressing the challenge of getting data into the hands of educators and students.
- Katy Independent School District (Texas), where several data systems and data coaches are being used.
- Richmond Public Schools (Va.), where a homegrown legacy student information system has been successfully replaced to support data-driven instruction.
- Sanger Unified School District (Calif.), where a professional learning communities-based system is followed to guide collaboration for increased data use and assessment tools.
The current educational environment is driven by a focus on accountability, and educators are increasingly called upon to make student data available, usable, and relevant to inform and improve instructional practices. K12 leaders must go beyond recognizing the role of data—they must lead the effective, innovative use of this information to maximize student achievement and create pioneering 21st-century learning environments.
Ann Ware is the project director for Closing the Gap, a joint project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 Institute for Education Sciences (IES) Practice Guide, “Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making,” September 2009: http://www.ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/dddm_pg_092909.pdf