Supporting Data-informed Decision Making with Digital Tools


Digital pedagogy
Instructional design
Student-centered instruction

Clarity Innovations ensures that the innovation solutions and products we create, as well as our internal processes, are centered around students and grounded in learning.

Educators are often inundated with data, which can at times be overwhelming and confusing. Evidence shows that when educators, school leaders, and education companies use data to inform instructional practices, all learners benefit from increased learning and achievement. We use data-informed decision making practices both internally and in our work with clients to make data processing easier and more explicit.

A variety of digital tools and services exist to support stakeholders in collecting, analyzing, and utilizing data ranging from large scale data warehouses to classroom level assessment tools. These tools and services often support educators in identifying patterns and organizing data in a way that is meaningful and provides valuable insights. However, the vast amount of data can be overwhelming and often does not share the whole story about learners.

Ensuring Effectiveness in Data-informed Decision Making

Effective data-informed decision making processes ensure schools and classrooms promote systemic practices that are grounded in their mission, evaluate trends, integrate qualitative and quantitative data, and aggregate data to equitably inform instruction.

Start with Your Mission

We have seen that processes that are centered around students and grounded in learning works best. When establishing data-informed processes, educators and leaders must align their schools’ mission to their practice and achievement-specific goals. This approach sheds light on areas of improvement that are pertinent to the needs of the overall organization.

Evaluate Trends

Looking for and evaluating trends that arise in formative and summative data is another successful strategy. By evaluating trends in data, educators can make inferences about student needs through a holistic lens. Baseline assessments are the first step, so that one can compare over time how a process or practice has made a difference. For example, educators can evaluate curricular gaps as well as identify the effectiveness of supports and interventions to keep learners from falling through the cracks.

From there, move beyond baselines to examine what’s changing faster or slower than the average. These are the areas to focus on. For example, a student that continues to show little to no learning growth in their first period class or is often tardy may be responsible for getting their younger siblings ready to school. It is not until the educator identifies this trend in academics or attendance when they begin to ask simple questions of “why”. When educators track and identify these trends, they are able to involve the appropriate personnel to build relationships and create accommodations that support the student and family as a whole. Digital tools often provide visualizations that support educators and school leaders in identifying these trends over time.

Consider Multiple Sources of Data

Everyday, educators have access to data related to attendance, behavior, and academics. By looking at different sources of data, including collaborative work and anecdotal observations that evaluate social and interpersonal skills, educators are able to differentiate and enhance teaching and learning and, ultimately, better understand their students as a whole.

Start with one source and over time, incorporate others that help inform the context. There are as many data sources as there are grains of sands on the beach; more is not better. Start with the driving question or trend you’re trying to understand or know more about, and consider a mix of qualitative and quantitative data sources that could help inform it. Only through collecting data from multiple sources over time can an understanding come into focus about what works and what does not work within classrooms. This approach leads to continuous improvement of practices as a whole to better meet the needs of all learners.

Aggregate and Collaborate to Equitably Inform Instruction

Keep in mind though, that simply evaluating data in comparison to a normative group limits the ability to serve historically marginalized groups and individuals. Many data tools and services allow educators to filter by student group, level, or standard. When data is aggregated, staff are able to view skill gaps on a smaller scale to consider and address barriers that may impede mastery for individuals or small groups of learners. The important step beyond aggregation of data is collaborating with peers about what to do next.

By collaborating and utilizing the capacity of other staff, processes and procedures can be improved to ensure that instruction is culturally and linguistically relevant, engaging, and rigorous for all learners. As Kathryn Parker Boudett, faculty director at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote (2008), “A collaborative approach to data promotes that sense of shared responsibility by helping teachers see their instruction as part of a larger effort to serve students more effectively.”

To support educators in the effective use of data tools to inform instruction, we apply our extensive knowledge of educational best practice, pedagogy, and professional learning to provide consultation and product development for K-12 education companies. It’s our years of experience as former practitioners that enables us to help clients better understand the holistic needs of learners and establish processes and procedures to help educators better inform their instruction.