Teachers Can Access Student Information. It’s Just Not Very Useful, RAND Survey Says

By Benjamin Herold — February 14, 2019 2 min read
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While most teachers have access to student data, the information often isn’t very valuable for making classroom decisions, and whether teachers actually use the data often depends on the availability of outside supports.

Those are the takeaways from a new brief from the RAND Corporation, based on teacher surveys conducted via the group’s American Educator Panel.

Eighty-eight percent of teachers reported having access to student data during the 2016-17 school year, according to the RAND “data note,” titled “Educator Access to and Use of Data Systems.”

But that information was most likely to cover things such as grades, attendance, and standardized test scores. Far fewer teachers reported having access to cumulative or historical data on their students, such as disciplinary records and course-taking histories, which RAND cites as much more valuable for classroom decision-making.

Furthermore, despite widespread talk of educational data being used to personalize student instruction, just 20 percent of teachers on the panel said they could access information linking a student’s assessment results with instructional resources tailored to his or her specific learning needs.

And across the board, RAND found, teachers’ likelihood of using student data to inform their own classroom choices was also strongly correlated with whether or not they’d received support in analyzing and interpreting the information. To wit:

  • 54 percent of teachers who received help with data-use used student information to inform curriculum changes, compared to 26 percent of teachers who didn’t receive such supports.
  • 57 percent of teachers who received support used student information to identify individual skill gaps and customize instruction, compared to 32 percent of teachers who didn’t receive such supports.
  • 57 percent of teachers who received support used student information to update parents on their child’s progress, compared to 38 percent of teachers who didn’t receive such supports.

The most common types of supports received by teachers were encouragement from their principals and school-based professional development. They were far less likely to report having paid time dedicated to analyzing and interpreting student data.

What’s it all mean?

An “overall lack of the preparation and skills needed to interpret and use student data to inform instructional practice” means that schools and districts should be investing not just in better data systems, but also in more training and support for teachers, RAND concluded.

Photo: Photo: Debbie Cruger-Hansen, a 4th grade teacher at Mira Vista School in Richmond, Calif., works with students --Eric Risberg/AP-File

See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.