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What is Data Driven Decision Making in Education

Education’s use of data-based decision-making is often focused on improving student achievement through summative assessment data. Research indicates that data-based decision-making (data use) can lead to enhanced student achievement.

Due to increased technological advancements, standardized testing, student information systems, and instructional software, districts have an overabundance of information about learning trends, patterns, and student progress – many of which remain unrecognized. Those required to sort through vast amounts of information can quickly become disoriented if they don’t have specific goals. School improvement should begin with clearly defined, detailed, and measurable goals. 

Here is a quick look at how data can be used for decision-making.

What Types of Data are Available?

School districts have access to various types of valuable data, as follows:

  1. Academic performance data
  2. non-academic data
  3. program and systems data
  4. Perceptual data

Academic Performance Data

The academic performance data include data related to achievements and progress toward students’ educational goals. Assessments of academic achievement include benchmark assessments, diagnostic assessments, and formative and summative assessments, among others.

Non-Academic Data

A non-academic data set includes information about factors affecting a student’s academic achievement but does not directly measure the student’s learning outcomes. These include student attendance, teacher attendance, and referrals for office discipline.

Program and Systems Data

Data related to programs and systems are elements of work structure that impact achievement and benefits. These include learning standards, instructional expectations, and curricular resources.

Perception Data

Perception data provide information about a culture that impacts success. Behavior and decisions are highly affected by people’s perceptions. Perception data includes surveys conducted by students, employees and parents, etc.

Although not exhaustive, the article presents a multitude of data, underscoring the fact that data surrounds us. How do we make sense of all this data? How can schools go beyond simply collecting data to achieving success?

Goal Setting

Strategize well and make sure your goals are clearly defined. The strategy you identify will allow you to focus on one particular task and narrow the scope of the work. Say, for instance, you’d like to determine which programs in the school can help close achievement gaps, or you’d like to improve next year’s science scores by 5%.

Communication that Boosts Engagement

Education has a notoriously slow pace of change at the macro level. Small-scale teachers tend to be risk-averse, so they are scared of change. Creating the right conditions for change to flourish is the key to combating organizational inertia.  

As part of the communication step in the process, it is essential to encourage discussion, feedback, and criticism. Conversations that produce the highest results center on the why; without a clearly defined why your initiative becomes another item on your staff’s checklist. It is important to have everyone on the same page about what the district’s metrics and data management are intended to accomplish. In addition, it is important to be equally confident in the how of the process. The entire staff must buy into the plan to move forward with training. It should include the time frame, the process for evaluating progress, how it will affect routines, and what support will be provided.  

Data Collection

To achieve your vision, what must be done at the district level? How can information be obtained to assist in addressing and solving the issue? Your questions could involve investigating student performance, teacher performance, chronic absenteeism (and its effect on academic success), and RTI performance-the possibilities are truly endless.

You must narrow down all of the data available to you from your student information system (SIS), learning management system (LMS), assessment tools, etc., so that you can tackle the issue(s).

Develop Solutions by Analyzing the Data

This is a two-fold issue. The first thing you need to know is that generating dashboards and other reports takes time. Nothing worthwhile ever happens quickly.  As you embark on this journey and challenge, know that it will be gratifying when you’ve finished because you’ll be making a difference for students, teachers, and the community.

Once the data is provided, you should set aside some time to analyze it after giving it your best shot. Analyzing the data and permitting your staff to discuss it is critical. Developing a culture of learning and support amongst your employees is one of the best things to create. The data will support their discussions on learning strategies and help them understand why one group lags while another excels. Now is the time for your staff to be empowered with accurate data to support and drive the learning process.

Provide End-User Training

Training is key to the development of school staff and administrators, just as it is in a large corporation. To successfully implement a new school data analysis model or system, employees must adopt new habits and understand the vision clearly. Employees will only comply with a new process if they feel empowered, supported, and motivated to do so without your direct involvement. The training process should be continuous rather than a one-time introduction or session. Consider the following elements for a cogent learning process: 

  1. Don’t overwhelm the staff with a data dump; start small. 
  2. Consider the core concerns, such as student success markers in a particular subject field. 
  3. Don’t get bogged down in too many details; pay attention to what the data says about the big picture. 
  4. Work to build trust and support by putting data on the table without fear of recriminations. 
  5. Make sure staff is trained with the data at hand. 
  6. Have patience and work with the district’s resources.  

Develop Growth Targets and Monitor Problems

By eliminating bias, developing a strategy, gathering data, and segregating time to analyze the data, you can come up with creative solutions—set milestones and benchmarks to gauge the progress. Defining touchstones not only for the district but also for each campus, classroom, teacher, and student should go without saying. Dashboards and other tools will make tracking the results easy.

Consider the effect this might have on your students. If you empower your students in their learning, you will see true magic happening. Dashboards can give your students a sense of power by showing them where they stand and teaching them valuable life skills while achieving their goals.

Dashboards also offer the advantage of using this information far beyond just impacting students. You can set a goal of seeing a minimum of 5% growth in your students, and the data will support your claim.

Bring Your Results to Light

All that grueling work has to be shown off, right? Accessible reporting is a key factor in gaining the administration’s buy-in. In many cases, the report you receive leaves you with more questions than answers. Eventually, you ask for another report and another. Your teachers (who are already pressed for time) have moved on to something else by this time.

Data that is readily accessible to your staff, teachers, students, and community are much more likely to be engaged. You can make it easier for them to take action if you make the information accessible, reliable, and easy to use.

The Right Tools to Get You Success

Even though the steps outlined above are significant, you’ll struggle more if you don’t have the right tools. Surveys are a good way to gather data, but spreadsheets are outdated and better than nothing. With today’s technology, you can achieve much with the right tools. One example is the outstanding reporting functionality provided by DotNetReport. With embedded dashboards, easy-to-create reports, and analytics, the sky’s the limit. You are only held back by time, effort, and choosing the right tool. 

Putting Data into Practice 

Let’s look at a practical example to illustrate the whole process. Often, districts try to improve student achievement by improving parental engagement, but their efforts fall flat. 

The engagement metrics are misaligned with the desired result of parent-facing initiatives, putting them at risk at the vision-setting stage. Choosing indicators that focus on behaviors that directly affect student achievement is required if you aim for student achievement. Compare the two: 

  • The number of hours spent by parents volunteering at the school per child. 
  • The number of times parents log into the school’s online grade book per child. 

A parent’s involvement in monitoring and supporting a student’s academic activities may be a step removed from parental engagement in this metric. Furthermore, volunteer programs limit data collection in practice, i.e., there are only a certain number of opportunities for volunteers, and these opportunities may be seasonal. However, logging into a grading system provides an opportunity for parents to interact with their children regarding their academic progress.  

It’s important not to shy away from the change that will come about in routines and norms when communicating the vision. A metric measuring parental logins must be up to date if it is to be effective. Consider the situation in which a parent logs on and sees that grades have not been posted for three weeks! Unless parents are confident that new data will be waiting for them each week, it’s unlikely that logging on every week will become a ritual. Therefore, team buy-in is critical at this stage, and a leader doing a good job of communicating these details will have input from their team.  

It should be the question each district asks itself: have we adapted to the digital age, or are we operating according to a bygone era?


There has never been a better time to increase your school’s data driven decision making culture, particularly in light of the unique challenges schools face in online and hybrid education formats. You simplify the seemingly overwhelming challenges your school faces when you adopt and, more importantly, work to define and refine your school’s data driven decision making process. An absence of such a system leads to the temptation to rely on gut instincts and anecdotal evidence when making decisions. A Data Driven Decision Making culture eliminates uncertainties about what students know and are learning. Keep the laser-like focus on both your strategic objectives and the learning objectives set by your students.

Let us know if there are any questions or comments.

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