The nonprofit Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released a new report as part of its multi-year “Data-driven Decision Making: Vision to Know and Do” initiative, a cross-industry effort to help educators use data to improve instruction.

The report, entitled “From Vision to Action: How School Districts Use Data to Improve Performance,” builds on the developing body of knowledge about data-driven decision making (DDDM). It follows up on the consortium’s 2003 report, “Vision to Know and Do: The Power of Data as a Tool in Educational Decision Making,” which highlighted the need for educators to collect, analyze, report, and share data as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

“From Vision to Action” details best practices from school districts that have used data on student achievement to effect change within their schools and better meet state and national standards for student achievement. It profiles examples of successful leadership in a data-driven school environment and includes examples of school districts that are successfully implementing improvement strategies based on the data their schools have collected and studied.

“I’m continually struck that all sorts of districts are involved in this kind of effort,” said Irene Spero, CoSN vice president and “Vision to Know and Do” project director. “Everybody realizes the importance of it.”

Spero said interest in DDDM has increased considerably since the last report came out. More than 1,000 people have signed up for CoSN’s newsletter on the subject, and 950 school districts have used CoSN’s free self-assessment tool that helps districts determine their readiness to use DDDM for accountability and continuous school improvement, she said.

“Data can play such an important role in improving the … instruction delivered in schools,” said Karen Henke, author of both reports and a consultant in systems technology for school districts.

“By the time we wrote the second report, people knew” about DDDM, Henke said. “We wanted to get them to a point where they could use it.”

“From Vision to Action” finds there are three key elements to successful DDDM in schools, Spero said: (1) the linchpin of effective DDDM is leadership and teamwork; (2) the collection of data must be a cyclical process; and (3) there needs to be technology to support the process.

The first sentence in the body of the report addresses the educational culture in which DDDM can be deployed most successfully. “Leaders establish a climate of acceptance based on a shared responsibility for change rather than on a system of punishment and reward,” it says. The report notes this cultural distinction is critical in getting buy-in at all district levels–from teachers and staff members, to chief information officers (CIOs), to the general public.