Data is everywhere. From state assessments to exit tickets, teachers have a constant flow of data coming in. Too little data is rarely the problem. As school leaders, how can we help teachers effectively use all the data they have to better understand each student’s individual progress and learning needs? A good starting place is a systematic process that supports teachers as they collect, analyze and use data to tailor their instructional practices.

Show ‘Em What You Want

Creating a culture that values the consistent, ongoing use of data to support student achievement is essential. Start by establishing expectations for the collection, reporting and use of data. Model what you’d like your team to do by sharing the district and school level data that you’re using to improve your own practice. Emphasize how you’re monitoring the data and using it to make decisions and take action. Once teachers see how you’re using data to identify trends, pinpoint specific needs, and provide them with professional support, the next step is to have them turn their attention to their own classroom-level data.

Make it Safe

Data shouldn’t be viewed as a smoking gun that points to students’ or teachers’ failures. Rather, it’s a springboard for asking questions and identifying ways to improve. It’s important to create an environment in which teachers feel comfortable sharing and discussing data with their colleagues and school leaders. Teaching doesn’t always lead to learning and a look at the data can reveal that certain instructional practices aren’t working in a particular classroom. By examining data objectively, teachers can improve their instruction.

Decide What Matters

The goal of a data matrix is to create a report that tracks and monitors students who may be at-risk for academic failure. You and your leadership will begin by determining which data points you want to track and what the sources of that data will be. Examples of data you might include in your matrix are attendance, homework and test scores, behavior incidents, progress toward IEP goals, teacher observations, etc.

An important part of the data matrix is creating a categorization system where risk indicators are defined so that students who are struggling are quickly identified. For instance, a student with one or more failing courses would receive a risk indicator for GPA; a student with one or more suspensions or other behavior infractions would receive a risk indicator for behavior incidents.

Once you’ve identified your risk indicators you’ll next decide how many and which risk indicators merit attention. In this way, you can filter reports to only include students who are most at-risk of academic failure.

Work Together

Number crunching is more fun when you do it together. Create data task groups that include a mix of teachers, counselors, and other administrative staff. Task groups can be created for grade levels, subjects or other groupings that make sense for your school. The members of each task group should meet once a week to collaborate on ways to help those students who were identified most at-risk by the data matrix. By going through the report student by student, the group can create individualized support plans/intervention strategies for each student that are driven by his or her unique needs.

Weekly meetings ensure that issues are caught quickly. A student can go from engaged to disengaged in less than a week – and that student progress is monitored closely so that interventions can be adjusted as needed to support students and get them out of the danger zone.

Students aren’t the only focus of data task groups. Teachers should look for and find guidance and support for improving their instructional practices and classroom management strategies based on what the data shows about how their students are progressing.

Putting all the data that teachers collect to good use requires a shift in how data is perceived and the establishment of systems and processes that support using data on a regular basis. You can start small and grow your data culture as the school year progresses. It won’t take long for teachers to see how valuable data can be.

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