Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountability to Instructional Improvement

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  • The collection, analysis, and use of education data are central to the improvement of student outcomes. This study examined the characteristics of data systems and their use at the classroom level. More specifically, it looked at what types of student data systems were available to school staff, how school staff were using the systems and other forms of student data, teachers' understanding of data displays and data interpretation issues, and the supports and challenges for school-level use of student data in planning and implementing instruction.

  • Section 2404 (b)(2) of the ESEA authorizes the Department to reserve not more than 2 percent of the amount appropriated for Title II, Part D to carry out national technology activities to assist to SEAs and LEAs in using technology to meet the goals of NCLB.

Main Study Questions

  • What kinds of systems are available to support district and school data-driven decision making? Within these systems, how prevalent are tools for generating and acting on data?

  • How prevalent are organizational supports for school use of data systems to inform instruction?

  • How are school staff using data systems? Do they know how to interpret student data? How is school staffs' use of data systems and of data more broadly influencing instruction?

Findings and Implications

  • Districts are much more likely to have electronic systems with data such as student demographics and test scores than to have the ability to combine data from different types of systems or to link instructional resources to achievement data. Over 90 percent of the districts surveyed reported having electronically stored data on student demographics and attendance, student grades, student test scores on statewide assessments, and student course enrollment histories. In contrast, less than half of districts have electronic data systems that allow them to link outcomes to processes as required for continuous improvement. For example, only 42 percent of districts can generate data reports showing student performance linked to participation in specific instructional programs, and just over a third (38 percent) can execute queries concerning student performance linked to teacher characteristics.

  • Schools in districts involved in implementing a system of districtwide interim assessments were more likely than other schools to show an increase in data use from year to year, and also provided the most striking examples of positive changes in teacher data use practices.

  • School staffs' perceptions of barriers to greater use of data include: lack of time to analyze data, systems are difficult to use, data in the system are not useful, and district policies around curriculum coverage or pacing prohibit teachers from going back to reteach content that the students have not yet mastered.

  • Teachers identified the following problems with the quality of the data available to them: delays in receiving information on their students, lack of alignment with standards, lack of alignment with the school's instructional approach, and the lack of longitudinal data on their students.

Study Rationale

Request of the Office of Educational Technology

Study Design

  • Survey, case studies, teacher data use scenarios

Data Sources

  • Site visits during school years 2006-07 and 2007-08 to a purposive sample of districts and schools selected on the basis of their active involvement in the use of data for instructional improvement

  • Survey of districts conducted in 2007

  • Surveys of teachers conducted in 2005 and 2007 as part of the Department's National Educational Technology Trends Study

Study Limitations

  • N/A

Study Budget

  • $4 million (two reports, five issue briefs)


SRI International Center for Technology in Learning

Report Date June 2009

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Last Modified: 02/01/2010