Using Data in Education to Positively Impact Student Outcomes

Posted by Marcy LauckO

June 21, 2018

When used properly, data can help educators do everything from raise high school graduation rates to improve gender equality in math classes.


In 2001, I helped stand up one of the first K12 data warehouses in the country. By the time I stepped away from the project in 2012, the warehouse was home to over 60 million records spanning some 3,100 data variables; a virtual treasure trove of educational data.


This remarkable growth is indicative of a much broader trend that has swept through the American education system over the last two decades. When used properly, data is an immensely powerful tool with which educators can improve outcomes not just for high achievers, but for all students.


In my experience, there are two distinct challenges that a district must overcome before it’s able to leverage data effectively. First, it must figure out a way to integrate disparate data sources in a centralized, organized data warehouse. This was a massive undertaking back in 2001, but in today’s day and age, educational data platforms like Hoonuit have streamlined the process, making it easier and more reliable than we could have imagined even a decade ago.


Second, for its data to truly inform — and improve — outcomes, a district must build a robust data culture designed to surface actionable insights for teachers and administrators alike. There are a variety of factors that help shape a productive district-wide data culture, but foremost among them is a unified vision for continuous improvement and aligned professional development.


When a district manages to get data-driven decision-making right, the results can be transformative. Below are just a few success stories spurred by the completion of our K12 data warehouse.


Driving Academic Progress with Data


The district I was working with used data-driven decision-making to not only improve overall graduation rates but to significantly narrow the achievement gap between white and Latinx students — a persistent problem throughout the entire region. In fact, at one point, a report from America’s Promise Alliance indicated that the district had achieved the second-highest graduation rate of any urban district in the entire country. Achieving this distinction took a lot of hard work, to be sure, but it wasn’t unattainable; it was all about getting the right data into the right hands at the right time.


The district found similar success at the elementary level. By executing on its clear vision for using data to drive student outcomes, one elementary school, referenced below as elementary school A,  boosted performance across all demographic groups by between 14 and 20 percent from the 2003-2004 academic year to 2006-2007 academic year.


As you can see, each elementary school experienced growth over the four year period — although each took a different course:



During the first two years of this interval, elementary school B was trending the opposite direction: student performance was decreasing across all demographic groups. Prior to the 2005-2006 academic year, a group of teachers and administrators from school B visited the school A to learn from its successes. After this visit — and subsequent implementation of school A’s best data practices — school B saw roughly a 10 percent jump in student performance across all demographic groups from the 2005-2006 academic year to the 2006-2007 academic year alone!


Balancing the Equation


As impressive as these performance-based improvements were, I was just as proud of the broader cultural shifts that the district was able to achieve by putting student data into action. For instance, in one high school, administrators found that girls were three times less likely to enroll in advanced math courses than similarly qualified boys. After petitioning the district, the school received permission to create gender-alike advanced math classes.


During the first twelve weeks of the semester, the majority of students in the all-girls class struggled to express mathematical concepts verbally and scored nearly 30 percent lower than the all-boys class on examinations of algebra proficiency. However, by the end of the semester, the all-girls class was starting to gain ground, and by the fifth benchmark assessment, the class had closed the gap entirely. Ultimately, the all-girls class ended up outperforming the all-boys class on the year-end statewide math exams, and girls soon outnumbered boys in all the school’s advanced math courses.


Building a College-Going Culture


At one particularly memorable event, one elementary school invited the deans of of a nearby university to attend its kindergarten graduation ceremony in full commencement regalia. It was an incredibly important moment for the children and their families, as it showed that they had just completed the first step on the journey to becoming a college graduate.


As educators, it’s our responsibility to not only create as many moments like these as possible but to provide the support systems necessary to shepherd students through the subsequent steps of their journey and make the dream of post-secondary success a reality. When leveraged effectively, educational data can be the driving force behind this endeavor — our success with this district is just the beginning.


To learn more about the success I have seen using data-driven decision-making in education, watch my recently recorded webinar, Transformative Data Connections.


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