3 Keys to Success for Using Student Data Effectively

In our last post, we talked about the value of student data and how, according to a report by the Future of Privacy Forum:



“Properly used, mindfully implemented, and with appropriate privacy protections, student data is a tremendous resource to help schools fulfill the great promise of providing quality education for all.”



The challenge for schools and teachers is how to utilize data properly and mindfully so we can access its full potential to improve student outcomes – this can be a daunting task. These three tips will help you build a balanced foundation on which to grow…



1. Set a vision and framework.


The main task in leadership is to envision a bright future, engage people in that vision and create pathways for reaching it. The US Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology (OET) is setting an example with its 2016 plan, Future Ready Learning, which articulates a national vision for how technology can enable learning. This plan defines the policies and specifies programs that will make the vision achievable. The OET recognizes the necessity of using student data effectively in leadership, they state:



“Although research indicates that teachers have the biggest impact on student learning out of all other school-level factors, we cannot expect individual educators to assume full responsibility for bringing technology-based learning experiences into schools... Education leaders should set a vision for creating learning experiences that provide the right tools and supports for all learners to thrive.”



A whitepaper from The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) echoes this idea. It makes a number of specific recommendations such as, setting a clear vision for school-wide data use and making data part of the ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. They believe that success only comes from a comprehensive approach that is consistently applied.


The paper further outlines a set of actions that education leaders can implement. Setting up a school-wide data team can set the tone for data use and provide ongoing leadership that embodies expectations and best practice. While the target audience here is principals, these recommendations work just as well as for districts, private systems or subject teams.


This doesn't have to be overwhelming. It can begin with just one meeting and the aim to introduce data use in your school (your team, your district...). Great resources like this one, in the Success at the Core series, provides how-to lessons with exercises, videos and readings to guide your team to identify what data sources your school is using now and how to develop specific ways you can improve its application for learning.


The point is that leadership, wherever it comes from and whatever scale it takes at the moment, is key.



2. Support Teachers. Really.


Albert Einstein famously said: "I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide them the conditions in which they can learn." The same is true when it comes to supporting teachers. Today we're facing the greatest transformation in education since the introduction of public education itself. This means that we also need to transform teaching, as well as support, in how to use data to improve education as this is one of the greatest areas for growth.


How do we create conditions where teachers can learn?


Both the OET and the NAESP, among others, outline several recommendations. First of all, the best vision and frameworks for data-use can't be understood if there isn't a data-driven culture to bring it to life in schools. For leaders, this means providing dedicated specialists who can collaborate with teachers to solve problems as well as dedicating time to teacher collaboration sessions. Likewise, data has to become a part of the regular cycle of instructional improvement. Collecting a variety of data about students from multiple sources paired with interpreting that data, developing hypotheses and then testing them out are parts of this cycle.


This is just as important as creating positive classroom environments, creating channels (and expectations) for teachers to communicate and collaborate across and within grade levels or subject areas so they can learn from each other, identify trends and create solutions. A great part of this for leaders is encouraging inquiry and minimizing fear. Learning new things can be intimidating and this can be especially true when it comes to data and technology. Make it OK for teachers to ask questions and take small steps and then remember to celebrate achievements.


Supporting teachers also means prioritizing professional development. The authors of the Future Learning plan point out that educators need ongoing, real-time support like informal collaborations and mentor programs:


“Professional learning and development programs should transition to support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of technology; creative and collaborative problem-solvers; and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers.”


One teacher working in a high-performing, data-driven, charter school system describes how support for teachers is put into practice:



“Teachers meet in teams for data talks every week or every other week in which they do cycles of inquiry to identify trends and inform what they’ll teach next (and) administrators look at a variety of data points to make staffing, resource, support, and budgetary decisions on an ongoing basis. “



3. Equip and Empower Students


With leadership and teachers as the first two keys, it makes sense that students are the third. They, after all, are both the generators and the target of learning data. As adults, we process vast amounts of information and personal experiences everyday to make decisions. The first task to make this work in education is to get data into the students' hands. According to the OET, with the use of data, students can begin to "play a larger role in choosing their own learning pathways". This includes sharing information with the student's advocates so they can receive comprehensive support in every classroom, in extra-curricular activities and at home. There are a multitude of tools available to make this possible, but it takes a vision to make them effective.


The second task is to train students how to use data to improve their own learning. Data and assessment expert, with NWEA, Kathy Dyer explains that students can generally be very self-critical. The power is in teaching students how to direct that impulse into constructive self-assessment for learning. She notes:



“Students who engage in these activities are more likely to develop internal attributions, a feeling of empowerment, and a sense of autonomy. These are the same attributes that empower us as adults in our own work, so it does make sense that it would do the same to students in a classroom.”



The outcomes of access to data and the ability to apply it are increased ownership self-awareness and confidence. In fact, education is increasingly inclusive of the development of non-cognitive measures into standards for teaching effectiveness. Also referred to as social and emotional learning, these are the skills, habits, and attitudes that ensure success not just in school but also in life and work. The Future Learning plans include factors like:

·      Self-awareness and self-management.

·      Social awareness and relationship skills.

·      Perseverance, motivation and growth mindsets.



Setting a vision and creating the framework, supporting teachers as well as equipping and empowering students to use data to improve learning create a virtuous circle of continuous improvement. Starting with small steps in each area will help you begin to create a sustainable, data-driven environment that enables the effective use of student data for learning.



Please be in touch if you would like to share your thoughts and ideas with us or if we can be of assistance. 

About Mohamed Saeed

 Mohamed Saeed, Co-founder and Director of Marketing

Mohamed Saeed, Co-founder and Director of Marketing

Mohamed’s passion for improving students' lives is what motivates him to grow a community that’s equally passionate about making it better. Growing up in a country with a 63% literacy rate, he knows what the lack of basic tools means - even more so in a fast-paced, digital world. 

He’s proudest of having built a center for capacity development for 1000+ orphans and re-structuring its management so that the orphanage is well positioned to make its mission come to life. With Mentorina, Mohamed plans and implements marketing strategies, digging deep to understand what matters most to key stakeholders and refining the brand’s message to continually elevate Mentorina's purpose.