Data Analysts: One More Job Task for Teachers?

Teachers are asked to play so many roles: educators, counselors, leaders, and organizers. . . is it too much to ask that they also become data analysts? A new report from the Data Quality Campaign, Teacher Data Literacy: It’s About Time, argues that state policies have not gone far enough to promote data literacy among teachers, and makes recommendations to state and federal policymakers, as well as district leaders. The paper opens with a definition of data literacy: "Data-literate educators continuously, effectively, and ethically access, interpret, act on, and communicate multiple types of data from state, local, classroom, and other sources to improve outcomes for students in a manner appropriate to educators’ professional roles and responsibilities."

Teachers have always been data analysts, absorbing information from myriad sources to better understand how to best support students. However, the type and quantity of data is changing, and the pace has become fast and furious. Schools that have already made the shift to a technology-rich environment are challenging teachers with mountains of data from a variety of sources, each day of the school year (and sometimes beyond the school year). The paper points to research studies that suggest, “that when teachers have the training and time to make use of quality data as one component of improving instruction, students will do better.” There is no question that there is value buried in those mountains of data, but the challenge is in finding the time and developing the skills—often on multiple platforms—to make use of that data. This requires setting up classroom tools that generate informative data, learning how to make sense of the data, and then shifting instructional strategies appropriately.

After reviewing this report, a quote in an article in Education Week caught my eye: "I understand the data now. Before, I had no clue what [students] were doing on computers," said Michelle Escobar, who teaches 7th and 8th grade reading. She goes on to say that the difference is that now she's able to more frequently regroup her students based on skill level and more regularly reteach the content or skills that students struggle to grasp.

I suspect many teachers across the country can relate to what Ms. Escobar is saying. In committing to a shift to technology-enabled learning, teacher preparation programs, schools, districts, and states must commit to the resources required to make those efforts successful. This paper from the Data Quality Campaign points to steps district leaders and policymakers can take at the local, state, and federal levels to promote data literacy, including:

  • “Embed the definition of data literacy into teacher policies and guidelines, including program approval, licensure, professional development, and others as relevant.”
  • “Promote, support, and incentivize quality, ongoing professional development that is focused on data use to improve instruction and is based on the definition of data literacy.”
  • “Provide teachers with actionable, easy to access data. . . . States have a critical role in supplying educators with technology-based, secure, longitudinal data.”
  • “Ensure that districts and schools have the needed technical infrastructure for easy data use.”

A successful shift to technology-enabled classrooms cannot rest solely on the shoulders of our teachers, and requires a joint effort from local, state, and federal leaders. Some teachers and schools across the country have already begun to make the shift to technology-rich classrooms, and this paper points to some next steps that will help traditional schools move down the path.