Why Schools Should Consider Adopting A Data-Driven Culture Now More Than Ever

Start with data-driven decision making. 

I heard it all the time when I was an undergrad: Be a “data-driven decision maker.” No matter how important it is to be fluent in student data, however, the minute people start throwing around “data” as a buzzword, it becomes all too easy to tune out. This is a huge flaw in the education field and an overall disservice to students, because collecting, analyzing, and taking action on data is one of the most potent strategies we have to increase student achievement and growth. In the middle of a pandemic and wildly different models for delivering instruction—including Hybrid Education—the strategic use of high-quality student data is more important than ever. 

Focus on quality over quantity. 

The pandemic. School closures. A sudden shift to online and Hybrid Education models. Right now, it can feel like the world is all noise and no signal. Data can be the signal. The homing beacon. When schools make a conscious decision to focus on the right amount of the right data, all the noise begins to fall away. What is left is a consistent, meaningful focus on goals for student learning. In the absence of such an approach, “it’s all too easy to base decisions on opinion, assumption, or anecdotal evidence.” 

Whenever I’m asked about data, one of my go-to mantras is that we need to be smart about what data we’re talking about and using, and how we plan to use it. The problem of being “data rich and information poor” in education is real. As a member of one faculty pointed out, they had become very good at identifying student strengths and weaknesses via data, but not why students were strong or weak or how to effectively re-teach concepts. They decided to create their own more meaningful assessments that allowed for data collection and analysis “by student, standard, and question,” which was much more useful for them as a team. In an online or Hybrid Education environment, the ability to drill down into useful data, not just data for data’s sake, is critical. 

Collect meaningful data—it’s easier than ever before. 

Twenty or thirty years ago, data collection looked a lot different. Outside of state-processed standardized testing data or hand-tallying paper-and-pencil assessments at the teacher level, the ability to use today’s data to drive the next day’s instruction was often limited by time and the lack of available technology. Just think of how things have changed in education, particularly over the last ten years. 

In the past, conducting a true item analysis on a formative quiz or summative exam was an incredibly time-consuming process. Today, teachers can assign an assessment through the school’s learning management system (LMS) platform and get data from the assessment in real time, as students complete it. Even better, teachers can issue common assessments via the LMS and collaborate in real time on what items should be thrown out, re-taught, reassessed, or have any number of related conversations. Ultimately, when used correctly and in a timely manner, this aspect of a data-driven culture alone makes teaching so much more effective than the old way of doing things, where you might hope all students have learned some nebulous amount of content before moving on, but you’re not really sure. 

Data helps you “see” every student, every day. 

In a virtual-only or Hybrid Education model, you might not physically see every student every day. Even if you do, you know that the online or hybrid environments present challenges— both technical and otherwise— that you might not experience in a more traditional delivery model. Data collection and analysis can help solve those problems. 

For example, let’s say you have a student who was supposed to join a live video conference lesson on a given day. They didn’t, for whatever reason, but they logged into the LMS, watched your pre-recorded lesson, completed classwork, and filled out an exit ticket. Even though they didn’t attend class that day, at least you still got to “see” them and have some data as to whether or not they understood and mastered the day’s content. There’s still some legwork involved in tracking that student down and helping them attend synchronous content delivery, but it’s way better than the old days when a data point lost as the result of an absence might take several days to obtain. 

The data doesn’t lie. 

If I had a nickel for every anecdote I’ve heard so far this year about students turning their cameras off and leaving the room during online instruction— even though this is something we don’t allow without the instructor’s permission—or logging in for the first few minutes of a video conference and then “having trouble with their connection,” I’d be more financially self-sufficient for sure. Heck, last week I had a student in my office who told me that they didn’t hear a key direction from a teacher because they turned their camera off and jumped in the shower! 

Students, like water going down a shower drain, often try to find the path of least resistance. It’s one of the reasons why I love high schoolers so much! Good data helps you hold students accountable. More important, good data helps students hold themselves accountable. When you hold individual goal-setting meetings with students, when you have them reconnect with those goals during regular intervals throughout the course, when they are using the learning management system to record and track those goals, they can see for themselves how their progress and performance is impacted by the choices they make. 

Data helps simplify the challenges. 

When considering the unique circumstances schools face in the online or Hybrid Education formats, there has never been a better time to beef up your school’s data-driven culture. When you adopt and, more importantly, work to define and refine a data-driven culture at your school, you help simplify the seemingly massive challenges your school faces. Without a system, the temptation is to fall back on old habits, like making decisions based on gut instinct and other forms of anecdotal evidence. When you adopt a data-driven culture, you eliminate uncertainty around what students know and are really learning and can stay laser focused on both your strategic goals and the learning goals set by the students themselves.