School districts must help teachers become data literate before innovative solutions will take hold in the classroom.

As I’ve written about before, school districts need effective systems for collecting, reporting, and interpreting data on every student, classroom, and faculty member in order to drive better academic outcomes in today’s highly digitized educational landscape.

Unfortunately, as 2012 Maryland State Teacher of the Year Josh Parker observes, “In the era of big data, we find ourselves in a paradox where we are data rich, but information poor. We have access to a range of data points, but our understanding of what they measure, why they matter, and how they impact practice is shallow.”

This is ultimately a problem of data literacy, as many teachers simply don’t have the expertise to use data in a way that improves student achievement. Encouragingly, a growing number of administrative stakeholders have taken strides to provide teachers with the support they need to start making data-driven decisions. Most notably, the Every Student Succeeds Act opened the door to Title II dollars being used to fund data literacy-oriented professional development activities.

This incremental progress notwithstanding, research published in May by Project Tomorrow illustrates just how much work remains to be done before the average classroom teacher is adequately equipped to leverage student data effectively.

A Lack of Confidence in Deploying Data-Driven Solutions

The research paints a fairly grim picture of teachers’ comfort levels with various data-centric classroom activities. Fewer than one-quarter of teachers are “very comfortable” with personalizing instruction for each student (24 percent) or facilitating student collaborations using digital tools (22 percent), and only 25 percent are “very comfortable” creating project-based learning experiences for students. All told, 70 percent of teachers report being “not very comfortable” with using student data to inform instructional practice in any way.

But this widespread discomfort doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t interested in adapting to the digital age, only that they need additional support to do so. In fact, after increased “collaborative planning time with peers,” “traditional professional development learning” and “in-school coaching” are the measures teachers cite most frequently when asked what they need in order to start implementing data- and/or tech-driven innovations in the classroom.

Teachers have also expressed interest in “virtual coaching,” but while 64 percent of school districts have experimented with offering online professional development courses, only 39 percent have seen positive results.

On a brighter note, there’s a growing consensus among administrative stakeholders around the importance of fostering teachers’ data literacy, with 61 percent of district leaders agreeing that “training teachers on how to use student data is imperative.” That said, acting on this imperative is easier said than done, and two-thirds of districts struggle with providing personalized professional development while 58 percent of districts struggle to find time for professional development.

Tools + Training = A Recipe for Success

Ultimately, improving teachers’ data usage requires two things: intuitive tools and extensive professional development. States like Georgia are tackling the first challenge with initiatives like the Statewide Longitudinal Data System. As summarized by Data Quality Campaign President and CEO Aimee Guidera, “[Georgia Department of Education CIO Bob Swiggum] is focused on making sure he can get the right data to the right people at the right time in the right format.”

We have a similar mission at Vinson. Our CheckPoint EMIS platform provides an auditable trail of educational data to stakeholders throughout any public school district in the state of Ohio, fortifying the critical relationship between accurate data collection and reporting and student success.

CheckPoint helps districts secure the maximum amount of funding to which they’re entitled, providing them with the resources they need to expand their professional development infrastructure and, by extension, bring data into the classroom.