Dec 20, 2011 by Corey Fitzgerald

Using data effectively

The proliferation of data and data systems in Education has given rise to vast amounts of information; so much so that it can be difficult understanding what to do with it.  I suppose that’s why some districts still rely on “random acts of improvement” (Bernhardt 2006, p.30) to track progress and recognize success, a tattered approach that falls short in justifying outcomes. 

To avoid this gaffe, successful administrators use a practical frameworkto establish a culture of data-driven practices that wholly and effectively measure the performance of their entire educational system.  Achieving this is not a random act – it takes focus, leadership and plenty of practice to turn data into knowledge.   And with knowledge comes intelligence, like these 8 tips for effective data use in your school district.

1.   Establish a Clear Vision

Know where your district is going.  Ensure the school board, staff and students, along with the community understand the rationale and have a plan on how to get there.

2.  Ensure Buy-in

Give all members the opportunity to participate in creating the goals and objectives.  Getting their input will produce a stronger commitment because participants will ‘own’ the process.

3.   Learn From Others

Explore districts that have developed and implemented effective data-driven decision making processes.  Examine the criteria 15 districts usedto create performance targets, deliver professional development and address technology and budgetary issues.

4.  Examine the Infrastructure for Data Collection and Use

Analyze the following to ensure resource availability and compliance:

  • Personnel involved (time, cost and application)
  • Data you have vs. data you need (analyze growth)
  • Reliable storage and access (cloud computing)
  • Frequency of data collection and reporting (daily)
  • Accountability and reporting (operational requirements)

5.  Foster Professional Development and Growth

In addition to developing skills, people need to create an understanding of their role in the data culture.  Focused, data-supported interactions among staff are paramount to building relationships and ensuring best practices are shared.

6.  Follow Indicators and Lead by Example

Build habits that encourage data use and create momentum for monitoring change.  One approach is to incorporate real-life stories from your staff profiling both the positive and negative outcomes.  When everyone is aware of the impact, they know exactly how change is being supported and what they can do to improve the product of their work.

7.  Change the Way You Lead

Putting data and data-driven leadership to use in every conversation, meeting and interaction sends the message that this approach is valued and expected.  Frequent highlights of success are rewarding and validate the outcomes, while adding integrity to the transformation of your district.

8.  Make Good Use of Your Resources

Making the shift to a data-driven culture often imposes many changes to a district.  Identifying solutions to these challenges should be done through the vast network of talent and skill already in your district, which include not only staff but also business partners and non-profits in your community. 

What you do with this new intelligence is now up to you… share it, embrace it, or erase it. 


Creating a Data-Driven Culture: Leadership Matters. Eight steps to prepare a school district for accessing and integrating data to make informed, proactive decisions. December 19, 2011.

Related Reading:

Data Driven Decisions: A GPS Approach

How Can You Predict Student Reading Growth?

Categories: Education Trends