6 Principles Every K-12 Data Solution Should Follow

Founder, CEO & Chief Data Wizard at Schoolrunner
Image credit: Young + Hungry
Image credit: Young + Hungry

Zeal CEO John Danner wrote this week this week about culture being key to turning data into action.

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that technology alone isn’t the silver bullet to optimizing educational outcomes. If the processes and practices of looking at data and then actually changing what you’re going to teach next week aren’t built in to the culture of a school, then data will just be another four letter word.

On the other hand, I’ve seen so many schools make the mistake of giving teachers professional development on data-driven instruction and then at the end of the training they say, “Here are some sample spreadsheets: Go!”

Can you rally an army behind you if all you give your soldiers are some sticks and branches? Probably, but they’re unlikely to be very successful in battle. In other words, trying to build a data-driven culture without the right technology is a recipe for failure!

When Teachers Avoid Using Data, Determine Why

I originally created Schoolrunner to answer the question of a high school principal who asked me, “Why is it so hard to get teachers to use data to take targeted action?” This was a school with a tremendous data-driven, whatever-it-takes staff culture and yet still struggled with some of the basic blocking and tackling of data-driven instruction.

After spending six months working closely with everyone from teachers to the assistant principal to the front desk person, I identified five major reasons:

  1. The data took too long to collect which left less time for analysis and action.
  2. The data was too hard to analyze when all teachers had to use were giant spreadsheets.
  3. The data wasn’t timely or didn’t align with the curriculum.
  4. The data was presented at too a high-level so it wasn’t actionable.
  5. The data contained errors which caused teachers to loses confidence in any compiled reports.

Ed Tech Must Make Data Collection and Use Easier

The principles of the solution I created were based on what I’d seen from my time building systems for hedge funds and huge financial institutions like BlackRock:

  1. Technology should make data collection easier: mobile apps, grade scanning, etc.
  2. Data must be incorporated into teachers’ daily tasks, rather than making “data analysis” yet another job for teachers to do. For example, highlight which students had behavioral issues in the morning when the teacher takes attendance after lunch, so he or she can help those kids get back on track.
  3. Visualize the data so that the most important actions are presented first: which standards do teachers need to reteach or spiral?
  4. Data must be available in real-time and flexible enough to align to every teacher’s scope and sequence.
  5. Give users the flexibility to answer any question that might come up over the course of the year, not just the questions they knew would be important from day one.
  6. Allow users to drill-down on high-level reports to the underlying data so they can build confidence in the correctness of the data or take action to correct any records that have been incorrectly categorized.

I have another post coming to discuss the various strategies people adopt to try to solve these issues and some of the challenges associated with them.

Danner hints at some of them including the challenge of interoperability and the expense of trying to build a data warehouse to collect data from all the different systems. We’re 100 percent in agreement on one thing: If we’re not helping teachers use data we’re missing the most important people!

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