Archived Information

U.S. Department of Education Releases New Report on Use of Data Systems to Support Reform


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David Thomas , Media Contact, (202) 401-1576
Bernadette Adams Yates, Program Contact, (202) 205-9898


States and districts are making significant progress in building educational data systems and are starting to use that valuable data to change classroom practice and improve student achievement, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

But school leaders are still searching for the best models to mine the data to discover the best instructional methods for students, the report says.

“Data should be part of a feedback loop used to drive improvement at every level of the education system. This study helps us understand the kinds of data that need to be available for teachers and school leaders if they’re going to use data to improve their practice,” said Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

In “Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountability to Instructional Improvement,” researchers surveyed officials from 529 districts, conducted in-depth site visits to 36 schools in 12 districts leading the way in data usage, and analyzed secondary data from a survey of over 6,000 teachers to obtain a national picture of current data use practices at the local-level.

Major findings from the report include:

  • Data-driven decision making is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event centered on the acquisition of a data system. Districts will get more out of their investments in electronic data systems if they think about data-driven decision making as a system-wide innovation and develop a long-term strategy for its implementation as part of a continuous improvement process.

  • To influence teachers’ day-to-day instruction, data systems must provide teachers with information that is both timely and relevant to their instructional decisions. To be useful to teachers, systems need to provide data from recently given assessments that provide diagnostic information on students’ learning needs

  • Human and organizational supports for data use are just as important as the technical quality of the data system. Professional development around data use is widespread, but only a small minority of districts and schools have made data use a regular part of teachers’ practice.

  • Districts can promote data-driven decision making in schools by providing time for teachers to meet with colleagues to discuss and use data, funding positions for instructional coaches who help teachers connect data to alternative instructional approaches, and by modeling data-driven decision making for continuous improvement in their own operations.

  • Districts’ greatest perceived area of need with respect to data-driven decision making is for models of how to connect student data to instructional practices. Among teachers, there is a need to enhance their assessment interpretation and data use skills.

Building and expanding state data systems is one of the four areas of reform under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The ARRA provided $250 million in money to help states improve their data systems. The money is supplementing the $65 million available in fiscal 2009 and the $58.2 million in fiscal 2010. States that win grants from the competitive $4 billion Race to the Top state grant program will have additional dollars available to improve their capability to use data to drive student achievement.

For additional information on the report, visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html#edtech