In 2018 the Data Quality Campaign conducted its third survey of parents, and first of teachers, across the United States. The results are clear: parents and teachers both value data as a key part of educating children. In fact, 94 percent of parents want their children’s teacher to use data related to their progress in school to help personalize their instruction. Likewise, 95 percent of teachers use a combination of data—both academic (like test scores and graduation rates) and nonacademic (like attendance and classroom behavior)—to understand their student’s performance.
Even as a kindergarten teacher in the Bronx—don’t ask me how long ago—I always used data to make everyday decisions about my students. Whether it was helping them to read a story or tackle a challenging math question, teachers in my school were always listening and collecting information about our students so that we could make better decisions about what they needed and where they needed to develop. This year we found that teachers all over the country are using information to guide their students on the path to success: 89 percent of teachers say they rely on data to help personalize learning for each student’s unique needs.
That phrase “unique needs” is so important to how I understand the value of data as an educator and as a parent. Yes, we need data to hold our schools and systems accountable for providing a great education to all students. But data is more than a set of indicators on a spreadsheet; it comes to life when it is transformed into meaningful information that can be used to help students.
There are so many points along a student’s education path where accurate, relevant data can provide the start to an important conversation. The vast majority of teachers (86 percent) say data helps them communicate with parents about their child’s performance. In turn, parents can use objective information to highlight areas where their child may need extra support and make adjustments to ensure their needs are met.
Just last month as my son prepared to start his first year of high school, my husband and I sat down with his new principals and advisors to talk about his recent successes, where he’s struggled, and what supports he may need in the coming schoolyear. Gathering around a set of transcripts that included grades, attendance, notes from past teachers, and other information helped set up all of us, parents and educators, for a meaningful discussion about how to best support my son this year. The data helped identify issues and raise questions that could then be addressed in conversation—before concerns have turned into actual problems. We walked away with a set of expectations and strategies that will help us all support my son throughout the year.
Despite the value that parents and teachers see in data, they still face challenges in accessing and using meaningful information to support kids in school. More than 2 in 5 parents did not look at a school or district report card in the past 12 months, and many were unaware that these online resources even exist. And while teachers value using data to do important things like identify learning goals (87 percent) and plan their instruction (84 percent), a majority (57 percent) say they do not have time during the school day to access and use data.
It’s up to school and district administrators and state leaders to support a culture of useful, accessible data so that parents get the information they need to make decisions and teachers have time to use data to help educate students. Policymakers across the country are already starting to prioritize this work, and ESSA encourages all states to collect, use, and make available more data to help ensure all students are receiving a high-quality education. DQC’s Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students provide a framework with concrete recommendations for states to support data use in service of learning. After all, effective data use is about those moments when information becomes a crucial tool in making all the little decisions that make a difference for our kids. Parents and teachers want—and deserve—that opportunity.