Experts: Here’s how to turn data into achievement

CoSN has teamed up with AASA and technology research firm Gartner Inc. to create a website,, with free resources to help schools use data more effectively. The website includes templates, case studies, and best practices to help school and district leaders get started.

One of the subjects of those case studies is Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD) in North Carolina, whose superintendent, Mark Edwards, is a former Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner from eSchool Media and the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year from AASA.

Edwards told his fellow superintendents that MGSD ranks second in North Carolina in terms of student achievement—but second from the bottom in per-pupil funding. Effective data use, he said, is one of the chief reasons for the district’s success, despite its economic status.

“Data is about infusing classrooms with information that changes the trajectory of learning,” Edwards told attendees.

One session participant said he has struggled to get teachers on board with using data to inform instruction. “How can we overcome this fear?” he asked the panel.

Edwards admitted that when MGSD began its journey to transform the school culture around data use, there was a lot of trepidation among staff.

“We identified the people we called ‘early adopters’—senior teachers who embraced this concept—and had them lead our training sessions,” he said. “They would say to their colleagues, ‘If I can do this, you can, too.’”

Changing the culture of a school system requires “a nurturance of teacher leadership,” Edwards said. He added: “If you can lift, you can push—but you have to lift first.”

For more advice on using data to inform instruction, see:

Using Data to Improve Student Achievement

Domenech said such fears are a natural reaction to the use of student data “as a political device to hold people accountable” for doing their jobs.

He said AASA is working to make state and federal officials aware of the ramifications of these efforts—but in the meantime, “we need to clearly differentiate between [using data for accountability] and using data to inform classroom instruction.”

Resistance to using data for instruction also comes from prior experience, Guidera said.

“People won’t use data they can’t trust,” she explained. “We haven’t given people actionable information in the past, so data has become a four-letter word.” But if there is value in the information you provide, “you’ll see adoption,” she said.

To support this idea, Guidera referred to a study from Oregon showing that student achievement improved when teachers used data to inform their instruction—but it improved the most in classrooms where the teachers’ perceptions of data improved the greatest.

Finally, educators and parents have to trust that student data will be private and secure, Krueger said.

“We have problems” with data security at the institutional level, he said—“and we need to get serious about this issue.”

Follow eSchool News Editor in Chief Dennis Pierce at @eSN_Dennis.

Dennis Pierce

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