Educators use data in classrooms and schools to make changes in instruction and improve student learning. Districts use data to make decisions about resources, and data helps those districts create blueprints for improvement with measurable results. Policymakers and educators at the school, district and state levels depend on unbiased information to create educational roadmaps. While educational leaders have always had some sort of “data” from which to draw when making improvement decisions, the past data was largely impressionistic and incomplete. Recent trends in data-driven educational leadership are collecting a wide variety of datasets to gain fuller pictures of individual and collective student needs. Some advocates suggest that data-savvy schools and districts use all data types to improve practices at all levels, both instructional and operational.

There are many types of data that educational leaders can use to support student learning. Testing is the primary form of data that most educators know, but other data can influence school leaders’ decisions. An Infographic by Data Quality Campaign illustrates the different data that can impact leadership. Other types of academic information available for collection and evaluation include grades, course completion, enrollment and graduation rates. This data can offer insights into what students are struggling with — and why. Academic data, however, can only affect so much change without support. Demographic data, such as student age, race, economic status and special needs can help educational leaders contextualize information and identify patterns across student bodies. Action-based data can also be useful for understanding student needs. For example, data regarding attendance, behavior, extracurricular activity and program participation can aid in decisions regarding initiatives and changes that might impact students’ academic and social well-being.

Beneficial Data Access

There are multiple ways to access student data. While third-party systems or administrators can collect testing, academic and demographic data, teachers and students can also contribute to data collection. Teachers, for example, are in prime positions to observe and engage students, tracking behavioral and action-based data that helps the development of a complete picture of student needs. Students can also contribute to data collection by completing evaluations of teachers, programs, courses and extracurricular activities. They can also contribute by using learning apps like MasteryConnect, which offers unique features like common assessment sharing and teacher comparison analyses that teachers and administrators can collect and compare.

Access to different types of data depends on the role of the person accessing it. For example, teachers and school leaders often use data with personally identifying information to evaluate and address the needs of specific students. However, school- and district leaders might also use de-identified student data to identify patterns and gaps in their school’s curriculum and services. De-identified data provides information about specific students without identifying information. This allows schools and districts to evaluate the needs of their communities and share data with service providers that manage instructional tools and other critical functions, such as transportation. State and national entities typically rely more on aggregate data (which includes information on groups of students without details on individual students) to assess larger community needs and understand overall patterns that shape their choices regarding policies and resources.

Data collection is just the beginning. Data-savvy leaders collect targeted data from a variety of areas, analyze that data to identify patterns and report those findings to influence school improvement. Data holds the potential to meet students where they are, measure program and instructional effectiveness, guide curriculum development and resource allocation and promote accountability. Data cannot solve problems, but it can help educators identify those problems and develop creative problem-solving approaches.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s Online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.


Data Quality Campaign: What is Student Data?

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

Journal of Educational Change: How School Leaders can Build Effective Data Teams: Five Building Blocks For a New Wave of Data-Informed Decision-Making

Mastery Connect

The Tech Edvocate: How School Administrators Use Data Determines Success