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Turning data into action

How leadership teams from schools and districts can utilize data to maximize 21st century teaching and learning.

There’s no doubt that data is power. But how do K-12 education leaders harness that power and use data to inform instruction and improve learning?

The evolution of data-driven instruction

Over the past decade and since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, the use of data in schools and school districts has evolved from being focused primarily on accountability and reporting up the chain of command to becoming a much more useful tool to innovate in education. While the focus has often been on the importance of student information systems and learning management systems, the conversation today has shifted to making those systems powerful tools and leveraging them to move the needle on education outcomes.

This evolution has led education leaders at all levels to use data to more effectively reach students, but there is much ground to gain on this front.

At a time when closing the achievement gap and talent gap concurrently is a necessity, it is important that leadership teams from schools and districts understand the value of data to maximize 21st century teaching and learning.

Turning data into action

Data gathered at the classroom level help teachers to individualize learning, monitor progress and work with students to meet certain education milestones. Powerful high-performing data management systems can provide a constant feedback loop to the student, establishing a connection that promotes continuous learning and fosters a data-rich school culture ripe for improvement. Frankly, this is often what is missing in so many schools and classrooms today.

There is often a disconnect between the gathering of data and making that data actionable. We must ‘turn data into action’ to enhance instruction and increase student achievement.

Essential to closing the gap between data collection and using it to strengthen instructional practices is the role of the school or school district chief technology officer, or CTO. As a critical resource for any education leadership team, CTOs not only decipher data analytics, but also can procure the right SIS and LMS tools that will actually make a difference in instruction and help educators to personalize learning.

Tools to close the gap

Recognizing the need to shift the conversation to not only what data should be reported, but also how to actually use it for instruction, CoSN, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and Gartner Inc. began a conversation with the Gates Foundation, and worked together to create the “Closing the Gap” initiative. As part of this effort, the organizations worked together to see how school districts across the country are using data, and discovered some leading school systems, from Virginia to California, that are cultivating a data rich culture to foster academic success.

The practices of these and other leading schools, as well as a comprehensive examination of the full educational data landscape, led to the development of six informative case studies and three comprehensive resources to help CTOs and other educators lead district success:

  • Closing the Gap Toolbox, which provides the K-12 education community with a centralized place to share work samples. Included are practical tools used by district and school leaders to improve classroom instruction and student achievement using data. Take a look inside for current resources and consider sharing your own samples. To contribute to the Toolbox, you must successfully register with the web site and have your content approved. 
  • Professional Development Toolkit, which provides educators with a curricular plan for using educational data to strengthen instructional practice and improve student achievement. It offers a cadre of professional development resources designed for district and school leaders to facilitate their training of other district and school leaders. 
  • Selection & Implementation Templates, which comprises some key themes that emerged from the lessons learned by school districts striving to use data to enhance instructional efforts. These include: the importance of involving a variety of stakeholders in the process and delivering comprehensive role-based and systemic training. The tools and templates will help guide districts in addressing these and other lessons learned.

“Closing the Gap” was developed to help school districts and state education departments gain a better understanding of the current state and use of SIS and LMS solutions and to help them work toward implementing best practices that deploy educational information to the classroom. The resources mentioned above and others can be found at:

—Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)