What’s a Culture of Data, and how can schools get one?

  • Insist on data use. Educational leaders can encourage data use, and they can make it mandatory. When a teacher or administrator proposes a program or curriculum change, for instance, data to back up the initiative should be required. Data should be required to show success in projects, as well. Anecdotal evidence is not enough in an organization with a strong culture of data, and educational leaders are the ones who can instill these values by insisting that data be used in decision making.
  • Model data use. Leaders should use the data to make their own decisions, sharing with others the ways data has informed their understanding of issues and impacted their choices.
  • Provide professional development. Learning to use new technology is one thing, but learning how to use new data and insights to change instruction and improve student outcomes is different. Using teacher working groups to collaborate on data driven decisions and best practices and providing professional development to get teachers and administrators accustomed this new resource are advised.
  • Reward data use. Leaders can recognize effective use of data in educational decision making, rewarding members who are transitioning well. Making a positive example of those who are utilizing the data resources at their disposal to improve student outcomes is a great way to show leadership’s investment in data.
  • Highlight success. Perhaps insights from a SLDS will show that the school has improved in a certain subject over several years, or made some other positive growth. When news like this is shared, don’t forget to include that it is because of the SLDS and data use that this is known at all.
  • See academic improvement. The ultimate goal of any data initiative is not to make smarter decisions for their own sake, but to improve student outcomes with those decisions.

Ultimately, if the data that are available (whether it’s longitudinal data in an SLDS or not) are not accessed and used to drive decisions that are made daily, the money and time invested in creating the data systems will be wasted. Leadership motivates the users of the data—primarily teachers in this case—to access the data and provides the opportunity for them to be trained and use it to make classroom decisions. In short, the more data are used, the more they will be valued.

Jamie McQuiggan is a technical writer at SAS who recently co-authored Implement, Improve and Expand Your Statewide Longitudinal Data System: Creating a Culture of Data in Education. McQuiggan is currently working on her second book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators and Learners, which is expected to be published later this year. 

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