Having spent my career as an educator, I know the job’s demands are exorbitant. Fifty percent of educators report being regularly under great stress, and reporting tools they use should be sensitive to this. Doing so means more than just being “user friendly.” I have seen countless reports that are easy to use yet do not facilitate correct understanding and/or use of data they contain.

Labor-intensive data analysis is not a reasonable expectation of educators considering their job demands, so systems need to minimize analysis demands on educators just as such tools do for physicians. Just as it would be negligent for over-the-counter medication to offer no supports (e.g., labeling) to ensure its contents are used correctly, it is also negligent when data systems and reports do not support educators in using their data contents effectively.

A quantitative study of 211 educators rendered significant gains when reporting environments actively encouraged correct analyses:

  • Label  A footer (offering brief analysis guidance at the bottom of the data report) raised the accuracy of educators’ analyses of reported data by 307-336 percent.
  • Supplemental Documentation  A reference sheet (1 page explaining the data report it accompanied) raised the accuracy of educators’ analyses of reported data by 205-300 percent, and a reference guide (2-3 pages offering help using the data report it accompanied) raised the accuracy of educators’ analyses of reported data by 273-436 percent.
  • Help System  Educators need palatable lessons to help them not only use the data system, but also to understand the data in reports.
  • Package/Display  Design directly impacts successful use of reported data.
  • Contents  Report contents must reflect what educators need to make best use of the data.

Research behind this study is summarized in standards data system/report providers can follow to present data in ways that facilitate easy and accurate use. Data systems cannot maximize advantages and minimize detriments unless they give stakeholders meaningful feedback. Educators will welcome improved data systems, but students will ultimately benefit the most.

Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD, is a former award-winning teacher, site administrator, district administrator, and chief education & research officer (improving data systems). Her PhD in Education features a specialization in School Improvement Leadership, and she is entering the peer review stage in the publication of a book she has written on this article’s topic.