Teachers’ access to student information increased over the past several years as districts made more data available electronically, fulfilling one of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But the most accessible of that information may be too basic, and many teachers lack the training and some necessary tools to support the kind of data-driven decisionmaking that leads to instructional change and improved achievement, a report from the U.S. Department of Education says.
“The assumption of current policymakers is that the use of data from student-data systems will lead to positive impacts on instruction and student achievement,” says the report, which was released this month. “But an examination of current practice suggests that the use of electronic student-data systems and instructional decisionmaking are not fully integrated.”
As federal, state, and local officials work to collect and disseminate more data on school performance and student achievement, a more systemic approach to using the information is needed, it concludes.
While nearly three-fourths of teachers surveyed in 2007 reported that they could access student-data systems, up from 48 percent two years earlier, fewer than half could look at recent test scores, and fewer than 20 percent had the kinds of technology tools that would help them analyze the information. About six in 10 received training at school in using the data, and about one-fourth said they had guidance from a consultant or colleague.
Even with the data and tools, a majority of teachers are not given paid time to analyze the information and figure out how to use it to improve their teaching and their students’ learning, according to the study.
Only 12 percent of the teachers surveyed who could access student information electronically had time during the school day or in paid professional-development sessions to examine student data. That kind of analysis by teachers is essential to using data effectively, the report suggests.
Data-informed decisionmaking “includes the adoption of a continuous improvement strategy that includes a set of expectations and practices for the ongoing examination of student data,” it says.
Yet teachers in the study were more likely to use data to inform parents about how individual students were doing than to help guide curriculum changes or identify effective instructional practices.
“Unfortunately, as the report affirms, we still have too many schools that we refer to as data rich and information poor,” said Stephanie Hirsh, the executive director of the National Staff Development Council, in Dallas. “Teachers in these schools need professional development that enables them to integrate data analysis into a continuous cycle of improvement.”
The study is based on 2005 and 2007 survey data for more than 1,000 technology directors and 6,000 teachers in a representative sample of districts that took part in the National Education Technology Trends Study.
The study was conducted by SRI International, an independent research organization based in Menlo Park, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week as Data Accessible, Training Limited