Experts: Here’s how to turn data into achievement

During AASA’s National Conference on Education, superintendents look for guidance on overcoming fears of school data use

“We need to change the conversation from data as a hammer to data as a flashlight,” Guidera said.

School systems are collecting a “tremendous amount” of data about their students, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), but how can they use this information to improve instruction?

That was the focus of a thought-provoking session at AASA’s National Conference on Education in Nashville Feb. 13. During the session, panelists agreed that the answer to this question relies on changing the entire culture around school data use.

“Data has gotten a bad rap in schools,” acknowledged Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit advocacy group that works to improve student achievement through effective data use.

She added: “We need to change the conversation from data as a hammer to data as a flashlight,” or a tool that can be used “to shine a light on what’s working” in schools.

Building data systems to collect and analyze student data is the easy part, Guidera said. The hard part is the “human piece”—getting teachers and other stakeholders to use, and trust, these systems.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), said school districts are “drowning in data,” but most of this information is being reported “up to states or out to parents.” For data to improve instruction, it has to be timely and flow in all directions, he said—including to and from the classroom.

(Next page: A free resource for schools—and advice on overcoming concerns about data use from teachers and parents)

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.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Dennis Pierce

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

Comments are closed.

New Resource Center
Explore the latest information we’ve curated to help educators understand and embrace the ever-evolving science of reading.
Get Free Access Today!

"*" indicates required fields

Email Newsletters:

By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.