More training is key to better school data use

By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor
November 16th, 2012

“It’s time to focus on the people side of the data equation,” the Data Quality Campaign says.

Schools and districts have come a long way in gathering and analyzing data to help boost student achievement, but according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), what school data initiatives are still missing is the human element.

The DQC’s eighth annual state analysis, Data for Action 2012, found that although states are making progress in supporting “effective data use” and  have enacted data-based policy changes, they have “not yet focused on helping people—especially parents, teachers, and students—effectively use data.” The organization issued the findings of its analysis in a report titled “Focus on People to Change Data Culture.”

“States should be commended for their hard work building robust data systems,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the DQC. “But it’s time to focus on the people side of the data equation—how this benefits teachers and students. State policy makers must actively support a culture in which all education stakeholders are actually using and learning from this crucial information to improve student achievement.”

The DQC is the creator of 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use, and according to the campaign, no state has taken all of these steps yet. For example:

  • States have laid the foundation to link P-20/workforce (P-20W) data systems but lack governance structures with the authority necessary to share appropriate data among agencies and departments. “This deficiency makes it nearly impossible to provide people the data they need to ensure that students stay on track for success in college and careers,” says the report.
  • States are producing reports and dashboards using longitudinal data but are lagging in ensuring data access by stakeholders such as parents.
  • States are increasingly providing training to help stakeholders use data but have not done enough to build the capacity of all education stakeholders to effectively use data, especially teachers.

To change the culture of education data use, the report says, states not only must create enabling state conditions, “but also determine their role in creating enabling local conditions.”

What’s also critical in proper data dissemination is promoting data ownership and trust by “building end users’ capacity to use data responsibly, and focusing on using data for continuous improvement, not to shame or blame.”

According to the report, three state-level conditions must be present to enable a data culture change: P-20W leadership, policy, and resources.

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One Response to “More training is key to better school data use”

Building the capacity to analyze data largely depends on the human element. Yes, data are becoming progressively more intelligent and better at analyzing itself; however, humans still need to identify what data is relevant, and to whom it is relevant. In some instances, we want data to be as specific as possible, but other times we are interested in general data figures. The trick is to allow data access to the pertinent users while not jeopardizing the privacy of the individuals sampled. Governmental policies and procedures toward data collection and compilation will play a decisive role into the data systems of tomorrow, but the human element of collecting and directing data is a process that does not need to wait for the political process. The creation of a digital student portfolio would not only enhance a teacher’s ability to specialize the attention given to each student, but it would also enhance each student’s feeling of accomplishment and self-worth.