School & District Management

States Consider Incorporating Data-Use Skills in Teacher Certification

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 31, 2014 3 min read
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Correction: The state working group is associated with federal statewide longitudinal database grant recipients, not the Data Forum.


When Hawaii started rolling out a new longitudinal student data system, “we were told, just produce the data; schools will know what to do with it,” recalled Christina Tydeman, a data expert with the state’s education department. “It became abundantly clear that was not the case. Some did, but many more did not.”

While each school was required by state law to have a team of teachers and administrators to review data, she found many were not ready to form those groups: “Some teachers said, ‘I became an elementary teacher because I’m not a math person.’ Chances are they were not drawn to education because of the sexy data use.”

Hawaii’s experience is far from unique. Boosted by millions of dollars in federal support, all states now have longitudinal data systems, but few administrators and educators in the field have been trained in how to use it responsibly and effectively, said experts in a working group of states receiving federal Statewide Longitudinal Grants at the National Center for Education Statistics conference in Washington this week.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a real surge in data use but no consistency in using it ... just bits and snippets,” said Marcus Bevier, a data specialist for the South Dakota education department, during a presentation on teacher data literacy at teh conference.

As a result, state policymakers and the public have grown more wary of the data being collected, participants said. “Responsible data use is really at the forefront because data has gotten a bad reputation in many states,” said Ellen B. Mandinach, a senior research scientist studying data-driven decisionmaking at WestEd. “Parents are fearful of it, politics are getting involved, ... so it’s very important that teachers show responsible data use.”

In a study presented at the meeting, Mandinach analyzed teacher licensure requirements in all 50 states, but found widely disparate requirements related to data use, including:

  • Twenty-two states talk about the need for data literacy, compared to 37 states requiring assessment literacy for teachers;
  • Only eight states have a standard for data use, and these vary considerably in detail and quality;
  • Twelve states do not mention data at all; and
  • Only seven states lay out what different levels of data literacy would look like, including specific skills.

“As researchers, we have to go through training for responsible data use every other year,” Mandinach said. “Why don’t educators?”

Data Training Standards

Thirteen states in the data-use work group of states receiving federal statewide longitudinal database grants are developing a standard for such training. The group released 16-page voluntary standards on the knowledge, skills, and professional behavior that teachers and administrators need to use data to improve instruction and education policy without endangering student privacy.

The guidance lays out what teachers and administrators need to access, collect, analyze, interpret, act on, and communicate about data. For example, Tydeman said teachers need to understand different types of data, the reliability of different sources of information, and the limitations of different types of data to evaluate claims about new interventions.

The group is now working with colleges of education to develop courses and certificate programs based on the standards. “In the end, we’d like this to be a feather in someone’s cap, that they can say, I know how to do this,” said Justin Katahira, data-use coordinator at the University of Hawaii.

The work group includes: Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.