How Teachers Can Make Sense of Educational Data

Posted by Courtney StevensO

April 9, 2019

Educational data is often so complex and disorganized that it’s almost impossible for teachers to leverage it effectively, but a combination of accessible professional development and powerful data-centric technology can help educators transform raw data into actionable insights.


In recent years, knowing what to do with data has become a critical item on every educator’s “professional checklist.” In fact, a baseline level of data literacy is now required by nearly 20 percent of State Boards of Education, and the Every Student Succeeds Act has opened the door to Title II funds being directed toward data literacy training.


Despite this high-level structural progress, many educators still aren’t equipped to derive meaningful insights from data, and tend to view data collection as just another time-consuming item on their to-do list rather than as the transformative force it has the potential to be. That’s why it’s essential that school- and district-level administrators take steps to encourage teachers to embrace data — and develop the requisite data literacy to do so.


Securing broad-based buy-in for data-driven initiatives can be challenging at first, but by investing in data-focused professional development (PD) and user-friendly data tools, administrators can take a significant step toward an educational infrastructure in which data is not only tolerated, but enthusiastically embraced.


Data Literacy Is a Culture, Not a Quality


The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) explains that “data-literate educators continuously, effectively, and ethically access, interpret, act on, and communicate multiple types of data from state, local, classroom, and other sources to improve outcomes for students.” Unfortunately, many teachers have a hard time with DQC’s first step — accessing data — a difficulty that makes interpreting, acting on, or communicating data effectively impossible.


This is a considerable problem, as putting the right data in the right hands can produce actionable insights at exactly the right time, positively affecting student outcomes and changing lives for the better. Fortunately, many school districts recognize this immense opportunity and are actively seeking out and/or developing powerful data solutions to help their teachers realize the full potential of educational data.


However, a data-driven culture is not the byproduct of a single solution or initiative. Above all else, effective data use is collaborative, which is why it’s so important for teachers to be data literate enough to communicate with colleagues, administrators, and parents about where they (and their students) stand vis-à-vis their performance goals — and where there is still room for improvement.


Building a Data-Driven Culture


Professional development certainly has a role to play in the creation of a data-driven educational culture, but a single afternoon or Saturday morning “sit-and-get” session just doesn’t cut it. PD needs to evolve alongside a school’s data culture if it’s going to drive continuous improvement.


In an ideal scenario, professional learning content should be made available on-demand. The best way to keep data literacy training from feeling like, well, homework, is to allow teachers to complete it on their own time, according to their own preferred cadence, and in a way that takes their personal needs, interests, and preferences into account. As any teacher will tell you, lessons tend to be most effective when they speak directly to the work students have been doing — which is why Hoonuit has embedded professional development modules directly into our data platform.


With Hoonuit, teachers can access informative instructional materials as they’re going about their daily (data) work. This responsive access serves to break down barriers to data usage, helping teachers overcome minor data literacy obstacles in the moment instead of having to wait for the next formal PD session or track down their school’s data expert.


Of course, as powerful as it can be when implemented properly, PD alone is not enough. It must be complemented by tools that make it easy for teachers to access and use data. For example, data visualization dashboards like Hoonuit’s can help teachers to both conceptualize and communicate the story that a dataset is telling. Similarly, data that’s intuitively organized and includes embedded plain-English explanations can help facilitate more effective data utilization and help teachers transform information into insight.


Ultimately, by investing in both the technology tools and the professional development infrastructure needed to create a genuinely data-driven culture, school districts can empower educators to make the kind of data-backed decisions that will produce better student outcomes — and overall school improvement — for years to come.

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