Five Keys to Building a Data-Driven School Culture

Posted by Matt Berringer on July 8, 2015

Data-Driven School CultureBy Dennis Pierce
Developing a data-driven school culture, in which educators routinely use student achievement data to plan instruction and support continuous improvement, requires a number of deliberate steps.

As part of the Gates-funded Closing the Gap: Turning Data into Action initiative, a Professional Development Toolkit for K-12 leaders offers advice on building of culture of effective data use in schools. Here are five key recommendations:

1. Build trust.
More than a third of the 1,000-plus teachers surveyed in a recent national study from Gartner Inc. reported that the learning management system provided by their school districts made them feel like they were being monitored, and 25 percent only used the system because they were required to do so. In the same study, one-fourth of teachers said their district’s student information system made them feel like they were being monitored, and 21 percent only used the system because they were required to do so.

“These findings indicate that the development of trust in how student data will be used
at the district, school, and classroom levels is an important consideration,” the toolkit notes.

Even as data use becomes more prevalent in K-12 education, school and district leaders must continue to build trust among teachers that data use is about improving student achievement, not about punishing educators—and that it’s essential to this goal.

As in any relationship, communication is critical to building trust, the toolkit says. Make sure your communication with teachers is open and honest, and that you communicate any changes in plans in a timely manner, with a rationale for the change. Also, personalize your communication whenever possible by communicating face to face.

2. Set goals
K-12 leaders should set clear goals for the use of data at the district, school, and classroom levels, the toolkit recommends. Here are some questions to consider in establishing these goals:

  • What are the district’s educational priorities? What is the vision for the district in the next three, five, or 10 years?
  • What challenges do students, teachers, principals, and district leaders face in assessing student mastery? Providing individualized learning? Identifying students who need additional help?
  • What data, resources, and materials are needed to positively impact student achievement?

3. Empower teachers
K-12 leaders can encourage teachers to take ownership of data use by including them in the selection process for LMS and SIS technology, and in identifying the “specific item analysis reports that will be used,” the toolkit says.

4. Provide training
Use professional development best practices to promote the use of data in the classroom, the toolkit urges. Allow enough time for this training, and make sure you provide ongoing instruction and support, and not just a one-time workshop. Build data use into your professional learning communities, and identify data coaches who can help staff use data to improve their instruction.

5. Include data use in teacher evaluations
Again, this should not be a punitive exercise, but rather an opportunity for professional growth and improvement. Setting clear expectations for data use, and embedding these expectations into your schools’ professional learning processes, will ensure that teachers are using data to plan their instruction and better meet their students’ needs.

Dennis Pierce-footer

Topics: education, data, K-12