The Ed-Fi Alliance blog includes contributions from experts in the field and individuals affected by our work. These individuals share our vision of improving student achievement by fostering responsible and effective use of data. Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., is a former award-winning teacher, school site administrator, district administrator, and chief education & research officer at Illuminate Education.

As educators prepare for the new school year, they can tap into a range of data that is a vital source of information to support students’ needs – beginning with their first day of class. Educators need to reference relevant data from multiple sources to get information regarding student performance, attendance, behavior, and demographics.

Access to powerful tools can simplify this exercise enormously. My own work focuses on using an “over-the-counter data” approach for reporting and analyzing data. This approach is designed to ensure that education data is shared and communicated effectively in order to open the door for insights which can improve student success and teacher satisfaction throughout the entire school year.

Ed-Fi technology offers an example of this vision come to life. Ed-Fi dashboards surface actionable data, and in so doing, help to ensure teachers obtain a comprehensive view of the information that leads to valuable insights about students. These insights are an essential tool for improving student success throughout the year. However, the work begins long before the first day.

Here are some of the ways teachers, school administrators, and district administrators who have access to Ed-Fi technology can prepare. These processes will be easiest if the data is “over-the-counter” and thus reported in an easy-to-use way:

  1. Exploring What Worked (& What Didn’t Work) Last Year

Data-informed educators do not guess at what instructional tools and strategies worked. Rather, they use multiple measures of student performance and feedback to better understand their own efforts in the classroom, and to plan for the year ahead. For example, educators can use data from last year’s assessments to examine student strengths and weaknesses by district and site, and within their own classrooms.

Educators can use these insights to:

  • inform their own practice (e.g., teacher: “I will spend less time teaching Standard A, which my students aced, and more time teaching Standard B, with which my students struggled – particular my socio-economically disadvantaged students”).
  • allocate resources (e.g., school or district administrator: “Our literacy coaches spent equal time with the history and English teachers last year, yet only History teachers rated that time as “valuable”; we will revisit the coaches’ involvement in the English Department this year”).
  • collaborate with colleagues (e.g., teacher: “I love my unit on Standard C, but I see my students lagged behind the schoolwide scores; I’ll ask my colleagues for their most effective Standard C resources, and I’ll share my Standard D unit and strategies with colleagues, as my students led the school in Standard D performance”).
  1. Preparing for Incoming Student Groups’ Needs

Educators can also review last year’s data to better understand incoming students’ needs at the aggregate level and to prepare for the new school year’s class periods, courses, grade levels, subgroups, etc. Doing so can inform adjustments to programs, resources, instruction, and more.

Educators can use these insights to:

  • inform practice (e.g., teacher: “I have far more English Learners than usual; I will brush up on Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English strategies, supplement lessons to make units more accessible, and talk to our district’s English Learner coordinator about additional steps”).
  • allocate resources (e.g., school administrator: “Our teachers normally have two days of writing program training, but I can see writing is no longer a problem area; I’ll get feedback on a better use of teacher professional development time and share that the 9th grade class contains a significantly larger number of autistic students we’ll want to excel at supporting”).
  • manage programs to meet the needs of the entire student body (e.g., district administrator: “This year far more 8th graders have been held back; we might need to expand and/or modify our programs that support retained students”).
  1. Preparing for Specific Students’ Needs

Educators can also use multiple data sources to better understand the needs of specific incoming students. Elementary teachers  can view each student’s data profile whereas administrators and secondary teachers can filter and sort data to spot students meeting specific criteria.

Educators can use these insights to:

  • inform their own practice (e.g., teacher: “Cora has an Individualized Education Program; I will take added steps to support her needs and goals”).
  • inform relationships (e.g., school administrator: “Sam is new to our school and has a history of behavior and attendance problems; our administrative team will seek him out to establish positive relationships with him and his parents at the start of the school year, and also ensure his teachers are familiar with his needs”).
  • plan learning environments (e.g., teacher: “I will adjust my seating chart to ensure groups will be comprised of students likely to will work well with one another in terms of behavioral needs, skill levels and possibly learning styles. I’ll place my two special education students in groups near the front, where I can most easily offer extra help, I’ll seat English language learners next to students who are proficient, yet share the same primary language so they can offer peer support, etc.”).

Endless Benefits

No matter how educators choose to use data to support students, data must be communicated accurately and in actionable formats to facilitate an appropriate data-informed decision-making process. Methodology that uses the over-the-counter data resources, including Ed-Fi technology, can maximize data’s power to prepare educators for a successful school year even before new students arrive by providing valuable insight to help students succeed from the very first day.

For more on over-the-counter data, check out Jenny’s TED Talk at TEDxTUM:

Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., is a former award-winning teacher, school site administrator, district administrator, and chief education & research officer at Illuminate Education.