A sound data use infrastructure is paramount to the development of high-quality data use. The components of such an infrastructure fall into three broad categories: Organizational, Human, and Technological.
Organizational infrastructure refers to organizational structures and conditions that facilitate data use. These include:
School and District Leadership
The research on data-driven decision making clearly indicates that leadership is important. In fact, it is the clearest finding in the literature. Building leadership to support data use is the most important component in establishing data use in a school and district.
Leaders should establish an explicit vision for data use. They can be accomplished by making possible common meeting time, allocating resources to support data use, establishing data teams, and appointing data coaches. Leaders should serve as role models for data use and as turnkey models for training on data use.
Other methods that leadership should use to promote data use include developing schedules that provide for common staff meeting times, creating incentive structures that encourage participation in data use professional development activities such as providing teachers with small rewards, and incorporating explicit data use expectations into teacher evaluation systems. [For more information, see Copland, Knapp, & Swinerton, 2009; Halverson, Gregg, Pritchett, & Thomas, 2005; Knapp, Swinerton, Coplan, & Monpas-Huber, 2006.]
Schools will ideally have a data team structure in which teachers and other educators come together for collaborative inquiry around data. These teams can be structured by grade level or by course. They can be cross-grade or interdisciplinary.
Data teaming provides a valuable venue in which educators can examine data and discuss the results, focusing on individual students or group issues and possible instructional strategies. [For more information, see Farley-Ripple & Buttram, in press; Love, Stiles, Mundry, & DiRanna, 2008.]
A data coach or facilitator who can lead the work of a data team and data use more generally is an important component of the infrastructure. This individual should be knowledgeable about data and about collaborative inquiry and able to share that knowledge with teachers and administrators. [For more information, see Love, Stiles, Mundry, & DiRanna, 2008.]
Distributed Data Leadership
Ideally, the school will implement a distributed leadership model in which the responsibility to use data does not fall solely on a small number of teachers or administrators, but rather in which most, if not all, teachers take on a role in data use. This will ease the burden on any one person or small group of people, and will make data use enculturated in the school. [For more information, see LoveMarsh, Bertrand, & Huguet, in press; Schildkamp & Poortman, in press.]
Another essential component to effective data use is building the human capacity to use data accurately and ethically; that is, educators need to be data literate. They need to know how to use data and apply the data to inform decision making for their particular roles.
Administrators, whether at the district or school level, need to be data literate to make many kinds of decisions, including personnel, financial, programmatic, general administrative, transportation, fiscal, and curricular decisions. Knowledgeable leaders set the stage for other educators to use data to inform their practice. [For more information, see Bocala & Boudett, in press; Honig & Venkateswaran, 2012.]
It is essential for classroom teachers to understand data use and be able to transform data into actionable, instructional knowledge. We term this data literacy for teaching. Data literacy skills do not function in isolation, but rather combine data skills with pedagogical content knowledge and general content knowledge to inform practice. [For more information, see Jimerson & Wayman, in press; Mandinach & Gummer, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Mandinach, Friedman, & Gummer, in press.]
Other educators and education staff such as curriculum coordinators, guidance counselors, classroom support specialists, data system staff, and even data clerks must be knowledgeable about data use. Training to enhance data skills are role-dependent and essential to providing the necessary skill set for staff. [For more information, see Hamilton, Halverson, Jackson, Mandinach, Supovitz, & Wayman, 2009.]
According to the IES Practice Guide on data use, having students become their own data-driven decision makers is important to an effective instructional process. The more students can understand their data and communicate about those data with their teachers, the more engaging and interactive education will become for students. [For more information, see Hamilton, Halverson, Jackson, Mandinach, Supovitz, & Wayman, 2009.]
Data literacy extends beyond the school and district. The more parents understand data, the more meaningful the discussions they can have with their children and their teachers. Other stakeholders who should have knowledge of data include school board members and the general public. School board members must make decisions based on data so data literacy skills are relevant.
The proliferation of education data makes the sheer amount too unwieldy to handle without technologies in place to support the data. Quality teachers have been using data for a long time, without the technological supports. Now, available tools and applications can facilitate data use in ways that have not been possible in the past.
A variety of data systems exist with varying purposes. These include data warehouses, student information systems, instructional management systems, assessment systems, data dashboards, diagnostic tools, and simple spreadsheets.
Data systems must be aligned with the purposes of data use and the education objectives of the school and district. These systems continue to evolve and develop with more sophistication, ease of use, functionality, and integration of uses. [For more information, see Mieles & Foley, 2005; Wayman, 2005, 2007; Wayman, Cho, & Richards, 2010.]
For data to be used, they must be easily accessible—anytime, anyplace— and, as such, user-friendly. Not all education work occurs in schools. Educators must have access to the needed data wherever they work, so this means that firewalls must extend beyond the bricks and mortar of the school buildings. There must be sufficient bandwidth for all potential users to access the needed data. Bandwidth has been a challenge for smaller and rural education venues and solutions are being sought. [For more information, see Cho & Wayman, 2012.]
None of the above structural changes are possible without the necessary leadership on the part of district and building administrators.
The research on data-driven decision making is clear that such leadership is, in fact, the most important component in establishing data use in a school and district. Leaders establish an explicit vision for data use. They make possible common meeting time. They can allocate resources to support data use. They can make possible the establishment of data teams and the appointment of data coaches.
Leadership should serve as role models for data use and can be part of a turnkey model for training teachers on data use. [For more information, see Copland, Knapp, & Swinerton, 2009; Halverson, Gregg, Pritchett, & Thomas, 2005; Knapp, Swinerton, Coplan, & Monpas-Huber, 2006.]