Teachers' Use of Student Data Systems to Improve Instruction


During the past four years, the data collection and reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have stimulated the development or adoption of new education data systems by many states and districts. This work has been necessary, but it is not sufficient for data-driven decision making to make a mark on education at the local level. Data-driven educational decision making is more than a data system. It is a set of expectations and practices around the ongoing examination of student data to ascertain the effectiveness of educational activities and subsequently to refine programs and practices to improve outcomes for students. In this rapidly changing field, little is known about the prevalence of data-driven decision-making activities nationally or about the supports and barriers for putting these practices into place.

Purpose of the Brief

What is data-driven educational decision making?
In an education context, data-driven decision making is the analysis and use of student data and information concerning educational resources and processes to inform planning, resource allocation, student placement, and curriculum and instruction. The practice entails regular data collection and ongoing implementation of a continuous improvement process.

Using data from national surveys of teachers and school districts, this brief provides the first national estimates of the prevalence of K-12 teachers' access to and use of electronic student data management systems. Specifically, the brief addresses three research questions:

  • How broadly are student data systems being implemented in districts and schools?
  • Within these systems, how prevalent are tools for generating and acting on data?
  • How are school staff using student data systems?

Data Sources

This brief reports on analyses of two data sets from the U.S. Department of Education's National Educational Technology Trends Study (NETTS). The primary data set used in this brief consists of responses of a nationally representative sample of K-12 teachers to a survey administered in fall and winter 2005. The teachers were clustered in schools sampled from districts participating in a NETTS district survey. The secondary data set consists of respondents to the NETTS district survey—a nationally representative sample of districts surveyed in spring 2005. Both district and teacher respondents were asked to report on activities during the 2004-05 school year.

Teachers were sampled from 975 schools within districts selected for the NETTS district survey. High-poverty schools were oversampled to obtain more precise data about their technology use. The final teacher sample consisted of 6,017 teachers; 82 percent of them responded to the survey. The teacher survey collected information on teacher background characteristics; general technology access, supports, and barriers; technology-related professional development; technology use by teachers and students; and items on the topic of this evaluation brief—the use of technology-supported student data management systems. Sampling weights were applied to obtain nationally representative estimates based on teacher responses.

Districts were sampled from among the 12,483 districts that received federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) funds in 2003, as well as an additional 2,239 districts that had not received EETT funds. [ 1 ] The district survey was mailed to 1,039 district information technology professionals; 99 percent of them responded to the survey. The survey covered a variety of topics regarding the federal EETT program, including the availability of a technology-supported student data management system and its accessibility to teachers.

List of Exhibits

Exhibit 1 Percentage of Teachers Reporting Access to a Student Data System
Exhibit 2 Types of Data That Districts Store Electronically
Exhibit 3 Teacher Reported Categories of Data and Support Available to Them
Exhibit 4 Percentage of Teachers Who Reported Using a Student Data System at Least a Few Times a Year for a Specific Function
Exhibit 5 Percent of Districts Using a Data System at Least a Few Times a Year for a Specific Function
Exhibit 6 Percentage of Teachers Who Reported Using a Student Data System at Least a Few Times a Year for a Specific Function, by Teaching Area
Exhibit 7 Teachers Who Reported Using a Data Management System at Least a Few Times a Year for a Specific Function, by Poverty Level of School
Exhibit 8 Teachers Who Reported Using a Data System at Least a Few Times a Year to Make Instructional Decisions, by Social Context of Use
Exhibit 9 Teachers Indicating Support for Using Student Data to Guide Instruction, by Source of Support

[ 1 ] The 60 largest urban districts were selected with certainty; districts composed entirely of special education schools and vocational-technical schools and independent charter schools that are their own districts, were excluded from the district sampling frame. To obtain the NETTS teacher survey sample, schools were selected from the districts in the district survey, and then a stratified sample of teachers was selected from the sampled schools (schools were stratified by poverty and grade level). Although the sampling process was sequential, entities at each level were selected at random (e.g., teachers were randomly selected from staff rosters from each of the schools in the sample).

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Last Modified: 02/14/2008