How Do You Define Data

November 17, 2012

Just as you would form a persuasive argument based on research and support it with facts, or make a recommendation to a friend based on what has been effective in the past, district-, building- and classroom-level decisions should be guided by data, or evidence of what is working or has worked in the past. Administrators and teachers can work smarter and more efficiently when decisions are based on a combination of data and expertise. The key is in how we define data. Do you think of data as only New York State assessments and quarter grades? Do you only look at your district benchmarks to gauge student progress? Our definition of data can really be expanded to include anything that helps you better understand your students or your school. This would include “lower-level data” such as observations of students, homework, quizzes, exit tickets, attendance, discipline referrals and many more.


At a time when there is such a focus on inquiry teams and data-driven decision-making, many teachers and administrators are frustrated because they believe that test scores don’t tell the whole story. I would agree with this. Data are two dimensional, and require the practical knowledge of administrators and teachers to illustrate the whole picture. Decisions based solely on test scores would not be sound. Many different sources and types of data must be considered in order to guide one’s practice. In the research world, this process of examining sources of evidence one can see, hear and read is known as triangulation. When we triangulate our data, we are able to build a much stronger case and gain a deeper understanding of the situation.


Another critical reason we need to expand our definitions of data is because if teachers are only analyzing quarter grades and end of year assessments, they are only utilizing summative data. Lower-level data, also known as formative data, can be collected daily and weekly which allows teachers to assess the impact of their teaching much more frequently. It allows for experimentation with different methods of teaching, flexible grouping, differentiation, note taking, etc. If certain students are not learning the material, a different approach can be tried before the end of unit assessment.


Data-driven decision-making is an expectation that is here to stay.  Rather than ignoring or denying it, embrace the power that lies within this process. There is an abundance of evidence which demonstrates that using data to support decisions made in schools generates positive outcomes. The key is to expand the definition of data and begin to model the use of data to support decisions in your building. By doing this, you will gradually develop a culture that supports the use of data. By beginning with a small-scale project and short-term goal, teachers will be able to experience the benefit of using data. Rather than feeling like data is another mandate being pushed on them, they will begin to see how using data is a powerful tool that will inform and guide their practice and lead the school toward reaching its goals.


If you feel that your district or school would benefit from support in this area, CASDA has the capability and expertise to provide the following data services:

  • Training on the use of data at the district and/or building level. This service includes professional development through training, embedded coaching, and capacity building to increase understanding of and support for using data as part of a continuous improvement process. Training and support can be tailored for Inquiry Teams who are engaged in district and building-level analysis. This training can include, but is not limited to, choosing appropriate data sources, building capacity to analyze and interpret data, and selecting and evaluating evidence-based interventions.

  • Training and support for Data Teams at the teacher-team level. Professional development can include the aforementioned topics and, in addition, support for understanding the creation and implementation of summative and formative assessments, implementing Data-Driven Instruction (DDI) through use of the action research protocol, the development of an assessment calendar, and training and support for instructional leaders working with teachers.

  • Data-Driven Instruction Assessments. Using the NYS Education’s rubric, CASDA can assist Districts and Buildings in rating themselves on the components of DDI, and in developing an action plan to further implement DDI.

  • Training for instructional leaders on the role of data in the context of APPR.

  •  Special Interest Studies: CASDA can assist district leaders in the exploration and research of topics relevant to their district’s interests and needs. For example, topics may include research-based strategies for improving graduation rate, using student data to predict those students at risk of non-completion of high school, and tracking the post-graduation experiences of students.

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