With a plethora of ed tech tools on the market, more districts are beginning to find ways to implement data into schools. With this trend, teachers are tasked with becoming tech-savvy and recognizing opportunities to use insights to boost student learning, strengthen the school community and work towards a data-driven school culture where data is not only used, but appreciated.

In our school, data has been transformed from an unfamiliar concept to an invaluable tool, and an integrated part of how we operate. At the district level, the use of data has impacted schools differently. Each department and grade level saw a distinct shift. But, all have contributed towards the same goal: a positive, effective learning environment for students.

Related content: What it really means to be a data-driven district

By recognizing how data is useful, we can inspire other schools to embrace a data-driven school culture, and to see the benefits that it can bring to faculty, students and parents.

Build a realistic timeline

Prior to implementing a data system, it’s crucial that a district evaluates its schools’ individual needs and consults teachers. It’s also a smart idea to build out a realistic timeline – implementing this kind of program takes time, and by allowing room for trial-and-error, evaluation, and feedback, the entire process runs smoother.

As an example, Chico Unified School District began the process seven years ago by homing in on elementary assessment data. To do this, we put together a district leadership council to start going through the assessments in-depth, and identified what’s beneficial.

This is where the shift began. Teachers were driving assessment choices, and district leaders were identifying what was truly working for our district.

More recently, we revamped the way we handle assessments. We needed a data platform that would offer us a view of the whole child while simultaneously offering crucial insights into the student’s learning journey and performance. In addition, teachers wanted something that was customizable. We chose Illuminate Education, and its platform—paired with a refreshed report-card-reporting procedure—has advanced our culture of data even further.

Give teachers autonomy

As noted above, for real change to happen, teachers must be empowered to do so. We did this both formally and informally. Formally, we put together the district leadership council above, where we received input on what would be beneficial for teachers, resulting in teacher-driven assessment choices. This group of teacher leaders formed a unified front to help make the transition to a data-driven environment easier.

Informally, our elementary educators got together to evaluate district assessments and come up with a K-5 plan. We’ve found that it’s easiest to start at the elementary level when implementing a data plan, and I suggest bringing in elementary teachers early on as a part of the process.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when having access to a large amount of data. To combat this uneasy feeling and inspired by the success of the district leadership council, we hosted professional learning community (PLC) trainings, being sure to point to certain reports on certain assessments – giving specific examples and hands-on experience makes it easier to understand what data means, and how to use it.

Teachers have loved the ability to create custom assessments to best suit student and district needs, and to see the tangible results of these assessments through data insights. In addition to this benefit, educators now have the chance to show parents details of their students’ experience through student profiles that summarize pertinent data such as demographics, assessments and grades. With data from the profiles, wins can be celebrated, and areas for improvement are shown.

Use data for good

As with most districts, we have a variety of students from multiple backgrounds. With diversity should come an equitable experience, and data makes this simple. Since implementing a data-driven school culture, we’ve been able to tailor the student experience, monitor levels and identify where and how we can help students.

For example, we may have a student who would excel in honors English, but would be hesitant to say that they’d like to join the class. With data insights, teachers can identify this and place students according to their strengths. Through an effective platform, it becomes easy to focus resources on students who need them.

We’re also using data to offer parents an unparalleled view into their student’s academic career. Parents are now able to get a clear view of their child, where five years ago the picture was fuzzy. Data allows our teachers to see where they couldn’t previously, and provides a more exact view of student progress. Our district uses data trends to inform instruction, and give students individualized direction.

The data trend is here to stay, and in our district, it’s being celebrated. Through this new and improved culture, we’re discovering more ways to reach students and support our staff, building towards a positive learning environment for all.

About the Author:

Tim Cariss is the director of assessment and accountability and Ted Sullivan is the director of elementary education at Chico Unified School District.


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