The Potential of Data Use in Uncertain Times: The Role of Positive Data Practices and Cultures

Strong Teachers and Leaders
The Potential of Data Use in Uncertain Times: The Role of Positive Data Practices and Cultures

Teacher Data Literacy Week is an opportunity to elevate why data-literate teachers are so important to student success and the actions that can be taken to support teachers in building these skills. In this blog post, University of Arkansas Professor Kara Lasater offers recommendations to help teachers and leaders implement positive data practices and establish positive data cultures to address the months of unconventional – and likely inequitable – learning experiences that students are experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 abruptly and dramatically changed the landscape of K–12 education. In a matter of weeks, schools across the nation transitioned their students out of their buildings and into virtual and home-based learning environments. Some schools completely moved their curriculum online. Other schools established online office hours for teachers to regularly meet with their students. Other schools worked tirelessly to assemble paper-and-pencil packets of curriculum to share with students. Many schools adopted some combination of it all.

Despite the best efforts of teachers and leaders, COVID-19 has greatly contributed to inequities in students’ new learning environments. Some students have benefitted from exposure to new and engaging online learning resources, while other students lack internet access – ultimately rendering these technologies useless. Some students suddenly have parents at home to support and assist with academic learning, while other students have traversed their learning independently as their parents work incessantly to provide essential services during the pandemic. Some students have remained somewhat sheltered from the hardships associated with COVID-19, while other students have experienced firsthand the fear, isolation, and loss caused by the disease. Regardless of their circumstances, when students eventually return to school, they will bring with them months of unconventional, and likely inequitable, learning experiences.

Fortunately, data use can serve as a valuable tool to help educators navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19. When schools reopen, data can help educators understand, identify, and respond to students’ learning abilities and needs. It can help educators make curricular and instructional decisions in light of students’ learning, and it can even help educators connect students with additional academic and socio-emotional supports. Ultimately, in the midst of uncertainty, data provides valuable information which can guide school decisions in purposeful, meaningful ways – if it is enacted in positive, healthy ways.

The following information is provided to assist teachers and leaders in implementing positive data practices and establishing positive data cultures within their schools.

  1. First, data must be used for improvement purposes. This necessitates student-focused and improvement-driven data conversations. It also necessitates that school leaders collect data which provide teachers with the information necessary to guide improvement efforts.
  2. Furthermore, data literacy plays a critical role in effective data use. Data literacy refers to the skills teachers and leaders need in order to access, analyze, and make sense of data to guide future decisions and actions. School leaders can support teachers in developing data literacy by providing them with training and ongoing support (i.e., coaching and mentoring) in data use processes.
  3. It is also important that leaders create safe professional environments related to the use of data. This necessitates that teachers and leaders actively work to establish trusting, collaborative relationships that allow teachers to openly share their data, engage in meaningful conversations about instruction, and collectively share ownership of data to facilitate school improvement. It also necessitates that leaders provide teachers with support (via time, structures, coaching, etc.) in data use processes and are willing to share ownership of data along with teachers.
  4. In addition, teachers must have a sense of agency with data use. Leaders can support teachers in developing a sense of agency by allowing teachers to make data-based decisions in their own practice (e.g., what data to use, what instructional changes to make, etc.) and by providing them with the training and support necessary to feel efficacious with data use.
  5. Finally, teachers and leaders can use data to more holistically understand students. This requires schools to utilize a variety of data sources and to adopt a more assets-based approach to data use. When teachers utilize a variety of data sources and recognize students’ strengths, it allows them to see students as individuals with unique abilities and needs, and it allows them to incorporate and leverage students’ strengths for instructional planning and improvement.

When teachers and leaders implement positive data practices and establish positive data cultures within their schools, it provides them with an anchor upon which to base decisions and propel them forward – even in the midst of uncertainty.

For more information on the development of positive data cultures and practices, please refer to:

Lasater, K., Albiladi, W. S., Davis, W. S., & Bengtson, E. (2019). The data culture continuum: An examination of school data cultures. Educational Administration Quarterly. Advance online publication.

Lasater, K., Bengtson, E., & Albiladi, W. (2020). Data use for equity?: How data practices incite deficit thinking in schools. Studies in Educational Evaluation. Advance online
publication.

Stay tuned for more Teacher Data Literacy Week content. And in case you missed it, check out our first blog post, which explains why teacher data literacy is especially important for the remote learning environment caused by COVID-19.

Join the conversation on social media throughout the week using #TDLMatters. Also, join us for our #TDLMatters Twitter chat on Thursday, April 30 from 1-2 pm EST!