Are you a smart consumer of data?

by Evan O'Donnell, Director of Information and Technology

Teachers are often told to be careful consumers of data and to look at more than one source when identifying student learning problems.  This is good advice.  But while a one-stop shopping experience might be preferable, in practice these multiple sources are rarely found in the same place.  In most schools, when a student takes an assessment, the type of assessment determines where the data will go.

State testing data can be found in ARIS, while local assessments go into the teacher’s grade book.  Predictive assessments can be in Acuity, or in the assessment provider’s proprietary system.  This can make it difficult to look at different data sources together.  So, the challenge becomes how to take diverse products from many different aisles and put them in the same shopping cart.

As with any complex problem, sometimes simpler is better.  And there are some simple strategies for schools to use when incorporating student-level data in their instructional decision making.  Just follow the same strategies you use when buying groceries:

  1. Make a List & Budget
  2. Grow Organic
  3. Shop Local

First, make a list of all the assessments and data sources that your school has, and what the purpose of each of them is.  This means all sources - from the high-stakes tests, all the way down to the classroom assessments, goal setting databases, and those parent and teacher surveys that are sent out.  Most schools will find a lot of overlap and perhaps unnecessary data sources. Prioritize them, make some difficult decisions about where you want to spend your effort - everything on this list costs time, effort and adds to a complex situation.  It’s okay to start simple.

Next, you want to grow organic. Gathering data sources, creating common assessments, norming on how to score, and then using that data to inform instruction is not something a school can do all at once.  With all good change-practice, it is best to grow from the bottom up and support from the top-down.  Allow those subject areas or grade levels that are ready to self-select, give them the time to meet throughout the year to work out the kinks, and set up the monitoring and support to ensure they are supported.  Most importantly, don’t give up when things aren’t working smoothly.  Organic produce tends to have more blemishes, but it is ultimately better for your long-term health.

Finally, shop for your technology solution locally. Because this change is more about school culture and how people inform decisions, it’s important that the technology systems support the gathering of data and don’t dictate the process.  The systems need to fit your local needs.  This is one area where there is some help on the way.  There are products and vendors out there that will bend over backwards and customize their platforms to fit the needs of your school ( is one example).  If your school is tech-savvy, initially these systems might be self-created. Shared Google Spreadsheets can go a long way.

These steps may take time to implement, but are worth the effort in the long run.  Being a smart consumer of data includes having strategies for comparing data from different sources.