Give Us More Tools to Make Sense of K-12 Data, School Superintendents Say

Staff Writer

State education departments and school systems are collecting more data than ever, but district leaders see a big need for tools that will help them make better use of the flood of information.

A recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the Data Quality Campaign, in partnership with the school superintendent’s association, AASA, found that nearly all of the 253 district superintendents surveyed (99 percent) feel that state data could be more useful to them and their schools. 

One in four superintendents say they’re still looking for greater access to data. And 98 percent say better access to information would make them more confident in their abilities to make decisions for their district.

“Superintendents are asking for insights,” said Brennan Parton, vice president of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for robust collection and use of state education data. “They feel like they have a lot of information. But what they want was just more insights to help them make decisions.”

This comes after many school districts were forced to rapidly adopt new forms of ed tech to deliver instruction during the worst of COVID. Many of them are now trying to figure out what digital tools and applications are needed, long-term. But one of the upsides of the tech infusion is that it allows for more efficient collection of data.

Using data wisely to make decisions is critical as districts scramble to assess and address the learning that students missed during the pandemic, allocate federal relief money to efforts that improve student’s emotional and academic wellbeing, and make decisions about whether the tech products they adopted are actually being used.

The survey, which was conducted online in June, asked superintendents what changes would make state data more useful to them.

The top answer from 49 percent of superintendents was that they need more useful tools or technology that lets them see patterns and changes in their data.

Another 45 percent of superintendents say having data linked across agencies would make it more useful, while 44 percent say they need more training and ongoing support about how to interpret and use data well.

Image provided by Data Quality Campaign
Image provided by Data Quality Campaign

Superintendents also cited funding (42 percent) and time available (41 percent) as factors that affect how useful data is for them.

For education companies, the major takeaway from these findings is that school districts want tailored access to their data, Parton said. They want more support in areas that feel unique to their district rather than a one-size-fits-all data tool or training.

“There’s incredible demand from district leaders to have information that helps them make decisions and take action but that they’re also really hungry for more,” she said. “We need this ecosystem of state data, of local data, and certainly the tech providers that sometimes sit on top of that, to continue to innovate to really meet school leaders’ needs.”

Insights on Student Interventions

When it comes to what type of decisions district leaders turn to either state or local data for help with, most superintendents (62 percent) say they use it to make decisions about student group interventions and supports.

Superintendents also say they use data to make decisions around course offerings and curriculum aligned to postsecondary and workforce opportunities (61 percent), conversations with principals and other school leaders (58 percent), staffing and hiring (49 percent), and resource allocation (47 percent).

The Data Quality Campaign survey also found:

  • 95 percent of superintendents say they use disaggregated data at least once during the year. But only 25 percent say they use disaggregated data once a week or more.
  • 53 percent of superintendents say they use disaggregated data to identify systemwide gaps in student performance. While 52 percent say they use disaggregated data to identify schools and school leaders in need of support.
  • 94 percent of superintendents say they trust that the data their state provides through summative assessments accurately reflects their school’s performance.

“District leaders have always known that they needed to dig in and identify both their bright spots and their weaknesses with information so they can provide the tailored support,” Parton said. “But they’re facing a whole new level of challenges with both the in-school and out-of-school supports that students need.”

Image by Getty.

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