Here are six key steps in forming a culture of strong data use to improve education

culture-of-data

Leadership is a key tenet of a successful culture of data.

Schools are overflowing with data—attendance records, achievement data, even logs from mobile devices—and the question remains, how can education systems create a culture that uses data to make decisions?

Central to the creation of a Culture of Data are three key structures: Technology, Process, and Leadership. All are essential to support the shift to a data-centric culture in education.

When considering Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) technology, it’s obvious that the agencies supplying and using data must be using compatible software and sufficient hardware to accommodate such a large amount of data and processing. Strong processes are vital as well; each agency that contributes or uses data from the system must trust that the other members’ policies regarding privacy, data quality, and acceptable use are compatible, and the processes must be sustainable and effective.

And finally, leadership is a key tenet of a successful culture of data. Without it, the success of the whole initiative is in danger. For administrators, superintendents, and state educational leaders, it’s essential that a system-wide shift is made to involve data in all decisions, and its success is in their hands.

Leading toward a Culture of Data

While there certainly is not a step-by-step checklist that will enable a school or educational entity to arrive at a destination—it’s much more subjective than that!—there are many actions and activities educational leaders can do now to model and encourage use of data resources available, promoting making the smartest decisions possible. Here are six key steps to begin.

  • 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.