6 steps for using data to improve instruction

From laying the foundation to creating the right culture, here's how to make sense of data

2. Create a culture of data use.

Establishing a culture of data-driven improvement is essential in holding staff accountable for this change. District-level leaders must set clearly defined norms for data use and model them in their own day-to-day practices. Principals, in turn, are responsible for reinforcing those expectations in their buildings.

When everyone knows what is expected of them, and using data to drive continuous improvement becomes ingrained in the district’s DNA, then real change can happen.

3. Invest in data management systems.

Teachers are typically awash in student data. The challenge lies in collecting timely information on student performance, organizing this information, and presenting it in a way that is comprehensible so that educators can use the data to inform instruction. A robust data management system is critical.

Ideally, such a system should be based on open standards. It should allow educators to collect and analyze student performance data from a variety of sources, and it should be flexible enough to grow with educators’ needs. It also should present information in a way that is easy for teachers to understand and act on.

4. Choose the right data.

Data from student assessments is important, but it’s not the only type of data that educators should rely on to improve their teaching. Performance-driven schools also use other kinds of information, such as classroom walkthrough data and other qualitative measures.

Timeliness is critical as well: Teachers can’t wait until end-of-unit exams to learn which students don’t understand important concepts. They should be continually collecting and analyzing information from formative assessments and other measures in order to adjust their teaching.

5. Build capacity.

Professional development (PD) is fundamental in using data to improve student outcomes. School and district leaders must invest in job-embedded PD that focuses on using data to improve instruction. They must provide support for teachers and model effective data use in staff meetings. They need to give educators ample time to collaborate around data use, building opportunities into teachers’ busy schedules to analyze and reflect on student data within department or grade-level teams. And they must bring together educators from different schools to share data and discuss improvement strategies.

6. Turn data into action.

School and district leaders need to develop tools and processes to help principals, teachers, and other staff members act on the data they collect. These resources should include data-analysis protocols as well as reports that monitor progress toward key goals. This type of feedback is vital for districts to engage in a cycle of continuous improvement.

The research is clear: Effective school leadership has a significant effect on student achievement. And one of the key dimensions of school leadership involves using student data to enhance instruction. When school leaders set clear goals, establish a culture of data use, and give teachers the tools and the training they need to inform their practice, success is sure to follow.

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