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Data Literacy for Teachers: Bridging the Gap between Education Policy Makers and Educators

June 17, 2020

The fight for equal opportunity in education has uncovered the need to promote data literacy among teachers. Brennan McMahon Parton, director of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, experienced firsthand how teachers can use student data to create a better curriculum.

Practicing tiered warm-ups, with three different levels of questions, was just one of the ways Parton’s school figured out how to analyze student data and apply it to classroom assignments, according to EdSurge. To promote a deeper learning in her students, Parton first looked at the right qualitative and quantitative indicators to ensure the students were progressing. If students fell behind, she could then use that data to get them back on track. Parton says, “Data breathes life into standards and curriculum.”

What Is Data Literacy?

Data literacy in education is the ability to collect student data—attendance, grades, test scores, behavior, and motivation—and create actionable instruction materials, according to the Harvard Educational Review. Educators can then incorporate these materials into a new curriculum, with the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes.

Every teacher’s level of data literacy is different, so policy makers and school leaders need to build on their established data literacy, the District Administration explains. As the teacher grows in data fluency, they create better assessments and standards. Additionally, they can track discipline-specific knowledge and how students learn, according to the Harvard Educational Review.

Why Is Data Literacy Important?

When teachers use data literacy to assess their students and adjust their lessons, they see an increase in student learning and understanding. According to the Data Literacy Campaign, teachers can apply data gathered from students’ tests, homework, and attendance to inform their lesson planning.

Focusing on the individual needs of students increases their chances of success. Analyzing student data can give teachers valuable insights into their students, helping them improve their overall educational experience and prepare them for successful futures.

Being data literate can also help teachers get to the root of student issues—including absenteeism. EdTech reported that one in seven students missed 15 or more school days which can result in failing classes, lacking mastery of a skill like reading, and a higher drop-out rate in high school. Only six schools in the U.S. kept records of absenteeism. Johns Hopkins University took that data, found the early warning signs among students, and implemented immersive classroom technologies to help boost attendance. This is just one example of how analyzing data can change the course of a student’s education.

Learning Data Literacy

Teachers must gain certain skills before entering a data-driven classroom. As the NWEA highlights, data-literate educators know the different kinds of data and when to apply them. They can evaluate data’s accuracy and transform it into actionable information. Furthermore, they can hold themselves ethically accountable for data-driven decisions.

American University’s EdD in Education Policy and Leadership teaches educators how to collect and evaluate data, as well as how to apply it when crafting curricula. EdD students learn how to transform pre-K-12 classes to increase equity and inclusivity in education. They also gain insight into working with data and ways to apply research and policy skills in the classroom.

Students in this program have the opportunity to take courses such as Applied Research Methods I: Enacting Critical Research, which focuses on enhancing skills with an anti-racist lens (analyzing how the power of majority groups has brought about inequity in education). They identify a problem of practice—such as the lack of data literacy in education—and produce scholarly research. Throughout the course, students explore improvement science, or problem-solving centered around continuous learning; participatory action research; ethnography; and developmental, qualitative, and quantitative methods.

Education Policy Analysis, another course offered in the EdD program, explores themes that relate to changing data literacy policy, such as agenda setting, problem definition, policy design, and policy implementation.

Courses such as these give educators the tools to apply data in the classroom and in policy development, as well as promote data literacy for teachers.

How Can Educational Leaders Encourage Data Literacy?

Educating teachers is the first step toward making data literacy a significant part of the education system. Competent and strong educational leaders, such as superintendents and principals, can encourage teachers to become data literate.

According to the District Administration, leaders address the challenges of data literacy by supporting professional development opportunities for teachers. In doing so, they will drive change to policy surrounding educational data literacy.

The South Carolina Department of Education created an instructional data literacy series to help principals and instructional leaders increase their data literacy and improve their use of data in making instructional decisions. By developing their own abilities, leaders clarify their expectations of teachers and better serve them.

Explore American University’s EdD in Education Policy and Leadership program and discover how educational leaders can encourage teachers to become data literate, changing and improving students’ lives in the classroom and beyond.