Report: Principals’ support key element in teachers’ data use

  • Principals play an important role in whether teachers are using online data management systems to make decisions about instruction, according to new results from the RAND Corp.’s American Educator Panel. A majority of teachers responding — 64% — indicated that encouragement from their principal was the type of support they received in using data to tailor instruction to students’ needs.
  • In-school professional development (59%) and support from a district-level data expert or consultant (45%) were mentioned as less helpful methods of support. But support in general significantly increased the likelihood that teachers would use data when communicating with parents, for example, or determining whether to give students test-taking practice.
  • Overall, the vast majority of teachers — 88% — report having access to student data through an online platform, but most of the data, such as grades and attendance, is entered by teachers themselves. Teachers were less likely to have cumulative records on students’ academic progress and behavior, or information on resources available to students. “These more-detailed data can help teachers better understand a student’s educational and behavioral background and adapt instruction based on those factors,” the report says.

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Dive Insight:

The survey results suggest that as districts adopt and implement data management systems, it’s important to ensure that principals are comfortable with the tools available and know how to support teachers at their schools in examining that data, running reports on students in particular subgroups, and accessing other databases that might provide a more complete picture of a student. For example, if a student is enrolled in an after-school program — either at school or in the community — is he or she attending regularly? For middle and high school students, are there behavioral or learning issues that show up in some classes but not others?

In general, the challenge for educators is not whether data is available — it’s that there is so much that it’s difficult to monitor multiple sources on a daily or weekly basis.

“Educators often find themselves drowning in data rather than being driven by it — burdened by irrelevant data that will not be used and non-diagnostic data that might be used inappropriately,” writes Kristin Hallgren, a senior researcher with Mathematica Policy Research. She also notes that “strong leadership” is important in creating policies, plans and even incentives for data use.

Craig Mertler, the author of “The Data-Driven Classroom,” recommends determining which indicators are the most important to monitor and ignoring databases that have duplicate data. Districts are also increasingly requiring that data platforms “talk” to each other in order to streamline the data-monitoring process and reduce educators’ frustration over having to log in to multiple systems.