Data-informed decisions: 3 tips for K12 leaders from a data scientist

Data-informed decisions help administrators develop communication strategies that empower parents as active stakeholders in their child's educational journey.
Joy Smithson
Joy Smithson
Joy Smithson is a data scientist at The SchoolStatus Group, where she works with districts all over the country to help educators use data to inform decisions and support student success. The SchoolStatus Group's comprehensive suite of data and communication solutions are designed to enhance educator effectiveness, automate workflows, support professional development, and improve student outcomes by facilitating meaningful engagement between teachers, districts, and families.

According to research, superintendents are eager to have more information to make data-informed decisions and ensure the success of the students in their districts. A survey conducted in 2022 by the Data Quality Campaign and The School Superintendents Association revealed that 98% of respondents believed that “better access to data would help them be more confident in their ability to make informed decisions for their districts.”

How can superintendents establish systems and processes that help them use data efficiently and provide better support to students? As a data scientist, I collaborate with districts, schools and administrators across the country, assisting them in extracting actionable insights from their data to enhance communication and pave the way for improved student outcomes.

Below are three tips for K12 schools and districts on effectively using data to support student success:

Use data to enhance communication with families

Leveraging student data to improve communication with parents is a powerful strategy for educators seeking to cultivate stronger relationships and enhance student outcomes. Caregivers are allies in understanding students’ home life and extending opportunities for learning outside the classroom.

Data offers a starting point for a conversation, like celebrating a scholar’s tenacity on a particularly tough assignment or a streak of zero absences for a month. The idea is that these conversations become more natural over time, and contribute overall to a student’s sense that their educational journey is important—because learners see multiple signals that various stakeholders are invested in their success.

Student data can also provide valuable insights into communication gaps between teachers and parents. By analyzing parent-teacher engagements, administrators can identify families who haven’t been contacted for the year, determine whether or not communication is shared, and track methods of engagement. Understanding these trends enables administrators to tailor communication strategies to individual needs to support more meaningful conversations between their schools and families.

Consolidate data to get the whole picture

Every school district has various sources of student and school data—from grades and attendance to state assessments, benchmarks, and discipline logs—often stored on different platforms and even in manually updated spreadsheets. Big-picture trends and areas that need attention are easily overlooked when data lives in separate silos. Adopting school analytics and communications platforms that integrate with existing district systems and data sources enables educators to view all this information in a unified, live dashboard and do more with the data the district is already investing in.

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Having data all in one place paints a more complete picture of students’ and schools’ educational standing. When a single platform displays exam and attendance data together, for instance, administrators can identify chronically absent students and simultaneously see the impact of these absences on academic outcomes. At-risk profiles can become more nuanced, to include more than one criterion, and the relationships between variables can be explored and revealed. Live data dashboards also provide access to the most up-to-date information, so leaders can take immediate action such as calling or texting a parent or leaving a note on a student card. You can’t do that from an outdated spreadsheet.

Promote data literacy and transparency

How administrators communicate with parents and families about data matters. Many parents may feel overwhelmed by complex educational terminology or struggle to interpret student data. To build trust and encourage effective collaboration, district administrators should make an effort to share data with parents and caregivers in a clear and accessible manner, focusing on what the data means for their children.

When reviewing a student’s record with a caregiver, it is crucial to explain any key terms or metrics and provide guidance on how they can use this information to support their child’s learning. Transparent communication about data collection practices and privacy policies is also essential to address concerns and establish a positive partnership. Moreover, communicating with caregivers about student data in their native language is critical. Communication platforms with built-in translation capabilities can ensure more meaningful and clear communication with all student families.

With data-driven communication strategies, district administrators can effectively address individual student needs, share progress updates and empower parents as active stakeholders in their child’s educational journey.

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