Professional Development around Data Use

 Tips for Effective Professional Development

Before you plan professional development around data use, there are some things to consider. First, schools need to establish a culture of data use whereby making decisions informed by data becomes a schoolwide norm (Hamilton, et al. 2009). Systematic use of evidence requires not only access to useful data but also skills in data use. Research indicates that targeted professional development on data-driven decision making needs to be offered regularly. Professional development should focus on how data can inform individual teachers’ practice and planning as well as larger school improvement decisions.

Setting the Stage

Clear expectations. Establish goals for each session. What should participants leave knowing? Articulate how each professional development session can contribute to both individual practice and the school as a whole.

Collaborative inquiry. It should be made clear that those involved in making data-informed decisions play important roles in the data-use process and can become resources for one another. Professional learning communities using data-driven dialogue can emerge.

Exploring the Data Use Process 

Existing knowledge. Data is everywhere, but not everyone knows what data are useful or how data can be used to inform decision making. Participants can take a quiz, survey, or other “ice-breaker” activity to discern what they already know about data, how they are using it, and how they can use it. Address, questions, concerns, and misconceptions about using data and help participants learn to identify useful data, analyze data, interpretat data, and connect data to instructional strategies. These activities help identify gaps in information and inform other professional development activities.

Developing questions. Give participants a voice by asking them what questions they want answered. While participants may already have a topic, problem, or overarching issue in mind, brainstorming questions can assist in clarifying the core question or issue. Illustrate ways that new questions and answers can be uncovered by looking at data.

Data literacy. Specifically, it is important to design professional development activities and provide resources and tools to help participants develop knowledge around the following:

Data Collection: Familiarize participants with key data terminology and concepts, systematic ways to access and identify useful data, designing and implementing data collection methods, and manipulating data to derive desired information.

Analyzing Data: Demonstrate ways to manipulate and interpret existing data by reflecting on results, discriminating important information, and connecting results to questions and goals of the project. Participants also need to learn how to create assessments for progress and how use assessment data in instruction and decision-making.

Using Findings: Participants need to make sense of the findings and their own--and others’--reactions to those findings. How will the findings be applied in the classroom? What are the steps toward using data to modify decisions about instruction and planning? Can findings be used to effect school change? Data results should be used in a timely way so that participants see how their use relates to their own practice and larger decision making occurring in the school.

Real-world application. Working with real problems can increase participant engagement and sense of ownership of the data use process. Ask participants to contribute real problems based on their own experiences and lead them through steps to making data-informed decisions. You can also incorporate hypothetical or real data scenarios or real case studies involving data use by educators. These scenarios can help participants practice using the concepts and skills necessary for evidence based education.

Creating Sustainability 

Leadership. To make data use a regular practice, participants need to feel supported by school leadership, School leaders should be able to model data use in decision making. What professional development opportunities do leaders need so they can become data-use resources to staff? Does the school professional development plan include ongoing, targeted assistance around data use? Are staff members given the time to make data-informed decision making part of their practice? Help leaders communicate the importance of data use in building a culture of continuous improvement and ways to develop systems and structures for supporting staff.

Start Small, Think Big. Show participants how data-use projects can start small (e.g., tracking one student’s math progress for a month), but can increase in scope to impact broader school decisions (e.g., revisions to a grade-level math curriculum).

Data Experts. Identify emerging data experts in the school who can support colleagues and showcase best practices in using data. In what ways can these experts be incorporated into professional development facilitation?

Sharing Findings. Telling the story of data use can help foster a culture of data-informed decision making and evidence-based education. In what ways can findings be shared with students, colleagues, and other members of the educational community? Making the process transparent can increase the comfort level for those wary of using data in their own instructional decisions.

Create a Data-Use Library. Help the school build a repository of information around using data. Provide help with finding district, state, and national resources for accessing data systems and tools that facilitate the data-informed decision-making process.

























  • Bernhardt, V. L. 2009. "Data Use: Data Driven Decision Making Takes a Big-Picture View of The Needs of Teachers and Students." Journal of Staff Development, 30(1): 24–27.
  • Garet, M. S., Porter, A. C., Desimone, L., Birman, B. F., & Yoon, K. S. 2001. "What Makes Professional Development Effective? Results from a National Sample of Teachers." American Educational
  • Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.
  • Hamilton, L., Halverson, R., Jackson, S.S., Mandinach, E., Supovitz, J.A., & Wayman, J.C. 2009. "Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making."  IES Practice Guide. NCEE 2009-4067. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education; 70 pages.
  • Huberman, A. M., & Miles, A. B. 1984. "Innovation Up Close. How School Improvement Works." New York: Plenum.
  • Means, B., Padilla, C., DeBarger, A., & Bakia, M. 2009. "Implementing Data-Informed Decision Making in Schools: Teacher Access, Supports and Use." US Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development (no. ED504191).
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