Empowering Educators to Use Data for Improvement


By Jacqueline Burke

Just as one chapter in a book does not tell the whole story, traditional measures of academic skills and knowledge do not provide all of the information we need to help students be successful now and in the future.  Most educators realize multiple measures as well as multiple types of data, such as attendance and discipline data, contribute to telling a more complete story. Additionally, there is a growing awareness of the importance of non-cognitive skills, such as hope, persistence, and social-emotional learning that current research is showing to be essential to students’ success.



No single measure can capture the complexity of teaching and learning; however, there is strong evidence that when multiple measures are combined, the result is powerful information to inform professional practice and accelerate student learning. For example, research from Gallup shows that student hope and engagement can be strong predictors of student success. Shane Lopez, Gallup Senior Scientist and author of Making Hope Happen, explains that “hope is worth about a letter grade in school. A high-hope person, with an average IQ of about 100, and a low-hope person with the same IQ, will compete for the same rewards in school. The high-hope person is much more likely to realize those rewards.”


However, having such potentially powerful information and using that data to impact student success are often two very different things, especially if educators do not have adequate data literacy to wrestle with the many different types of data now being gathered by schools and districts. With more data available to educators now than ever before, data literacy, or the fluency with which data can be accessed, understood, interpreted, analyzed, and used, is increasingly more important. Data-literate educators DataLit_RightConditionsare comfortable discussing many types of data, from a variety of sources, and they have regular opportunities to make informed decisions based on access to multiple sources of high-quality data. To begin building the data literacy of educators, it is essential to establish the right conditions as well as incorporate the right processes that will allow leaders to effectively support data inquiry and use. These processes must be replicable, allowing educators to learn a process and learn it well, and then be able to apply the process to a variety of data, both cognitive and non-cognitive. 

Establishing the Right Conditions and Processes for Data Use

Without an environment that values and supports data use, it can be difficult to create and sustain the conditions and processes needed for success. A data-literate culture provides educators with access to high-quality data, values collaboration and collegial conversations, and establishes structures and opportunities for educators to make data-informed decisions.  



A strong culture creates the foundation for implementing an effective process for understanding, interpreting, and analyzing data---a crucial step, as a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of data can ultimately lead to a misuse of data.


By establishing the right conditions, incorporating the right processes, and creating a clear focus we can help educators use the power of data to transform teaching and learning.  


One District’s Story

Circleville City Schools is in a small town in central Ohio with nearly 2,200 students. They set their sights on improving their high school graduation rate. Implementing a data process led to the district discovering that one of the contributing factors to the district’s low graduation rate was attendance.  “We had identified the problem as graduation rate; the correlation was getting kids here,” said Jonathan Davis, assistant superintendent.


Once the contributing factors leading to low attendance were identified, supports for students could be put in place.  Later school days and after-school programs targeted students at risk, the truancy court focused on building respectful relationships with parents and students, and the entire district, stating in kindergarten, focused on making school a place students wanted to be. As a result, the district’s graduation rate jumped from 78% in 2008 to 95.5% by 2014. This broke down to 50–60 additional students graduating from Circleville High School—kids who left high school with a diploma, better prepared for college or a career.



Access to multiple sources of high-quality data is essential to move education forward for our students. However, we must be sure that educators have the knowledge and skills to use data effectively. A focus on building data literacy by establishing the right conditions and processes can empower educators to use data to improve teaching and learning.


Jacqueline Burke is a Senior Director of Learning andLeading at Battelle for Kids. Follow her on Twitter at @JacqueB33