Data-Driven Decision-Making Introduction

Data as defined here encompasses a range of topics, including data definitions, data management systems, infrastructure (both local and statewide), and the actual use of data to make decisions on either the administrative or instructional side. This emphasis on data has grown as technology has made the access and use of data easier. But what has really driven the use of data in education has been its impact.

High-performing schools are analyzing data from assessments and student information systems to adjust curriculum, instruction, classroom management, as well as other factors in the teaching and learning process. Members in state departments of education are analyzing data as well in an attempt to find and publicize schools and districts that are doing well so others can learn from them. States also are able to provide better information to policy decision-makers such as state boards of education, legislators and governors so that they can make more informed decisions and ask better questions of educators.

However, before all this data can be used to make great decisions, a number of conditions must be in place:

  • Data definitions. Each element within the school system must have common and specific data definitions. The U.S. Education Department's Performance-Based Data Management Initiative will assist states in this effort. SETDA is finalizing a set of instruments and tools - based on common data elements agreed upon by the states - to assist in the assessment of education technology, which will be available at later this summer.
  • Infrastructure. Both the state and the local district must have a secure, fast way to transport data between points, as well as a data warehouse in which to store large quantities of data.
  • Data gathering. Schools and the state also need a fast, secure way to gather data so they can use it. While this seems obvious, the movement to put statewide and formative assessments online shows how powerful relatively instantaneous access to test data is.
  • Analysis tools. With more and more data, it is difficult to understand what it is and how it relates to other parts. Analysis tools can assist with this effort, either by providing standard reports, and/or by making data analysis as easy as clicking and dragging.
  • Interoperability. There needs to be a way for all these tools and data to talk to each other, often among various vendors' products. The School Interoperability Framework (SIF) holds great promise in this area.
  • Training and professional development. All educators must know what data they have available to them; how to use the tools their district provides; and, most important, how to change the teaching and learning environment to take advantage of what they learn from the data.

The hurdles of implementing successful processes for data management and analysis, online assessment, and capacity building with data-driven decision-making at a state level are numerous and sometimes daunting. The statewide efforts highlighted in the following articles demonstrate attempts to link data and assessment to instruction and learning to truly improve student learning.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.