Using Data Literacy to Drive Personalized Math Learning Needs

One essential element of improving student mathematics learning performance and outcomes is also the best way to maximize the investments that districts and schools have made in data, assessment, and adaptive learning tools: make sure that teachers are data literate. However, many state, district, and school policies have not gone far enough in promoting the skills that teachers need to be data literate. As a result, many teachers regard data as overwhelming, rather than a tool for improving instruction and outcomes for students. There is a pressing need to support data literacy through district policy for both effective math teaching and personalized learning.

The lack of proficiency in mathematics begins with a clear understanding of the importance of Number Sense concepts and skills. An understanding of Number Sense in kindergarten and first grade predict math achievement through third and fifth grades. Number knowledge in kindergarten is in fact a better predictor of overall academic achievement in third and fifth grades than early reading skills or attention. Furthermore, having an accurate mental number line in third grade predicts math achievement on statewide tests. Lastly, fifth grade fractions and division mastery predicts math achievement in high school.

On the first day of kindergarten, children arrive with varying levels of math knowledge. Some six-year-olds have not yet acquired the mathematical skills that other children have at three years or even younger. A child’s initial understanding of math has long-term implications for their success in school and life, as “preschool children’s knowledge of mathematics predicts their success into elementary and even high school.” Adaptive, mastery-based learning tools with a Number Sense curriculum can provide a highly personalized learning experience, enabling students to move quickly through what they already know and spend as much time as needed to develop concepts and skills, while their data-literate educators use actionable data to monitor and manage an effective blended learning environment.

In short, although every child can learn Number Sense, not every child will do so unless we intentionally and systematically support that learning on an individual basis. Having data-literate educators who have access to adaptive learning tools, real-time dashboards, Blended Learning policies, and on-demand professional development is a significant step in the right direction.

A data-literate educator continuously, effectively, and ethically accesses, interprets, acts on, and communicates multiple types of data from state, district, school, classroom, and other sources to improve mathematics outcomes for students in a manner appropriate to the educator’s professional roles, content knowledge, and responsibilities.

As data use best practices and tools change over time, receiving ongoing training to include the use of educational technology will be critical for teachers who are teaching for deeper understanding.

As educators face increasing pressure from federal, state, and local accountability policies to improve student achievement in mathematics, the use of data has become more central to how many educators evaluate their practices and monitor students’ academic progress. Despite this trend, questions about how educators use data to make instructional decisions remain mostly unanswered. In response, the U.S. Department of Education’s IES practice guide, Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making, has provided a framework for understanding and applying student achievement data.

This practice guide provides expertise from panelists and the findings from several types of studies, including designs of schools and districts, to suggest recommendations for creating the organizational and technological conditions that foster effective data use.

State, district, and school leaders must take a role in promoting data literacy for teachers to better support its effective use as a strategy for improving student achievement. Additionally, state policymakers can support districts in promoting a data-literate teacher workforce. To promote a common language around data literacy, districts and schools should have a shared common understanding of data literacy for communication and policymaking.

Promoting data use skills requires embedding data literacy into all teachers’ professional development in all content areas. Districts and schools can promote, support, and incentivize high-quality, ongoing professional development that is focused on data use to improve instruction, and is based on the definition of data literacy with teachers adopting a systematic process for using data. As data use best practices and tools change over time, receiving ongoing training to include the use of educational technology will be critical for teachers who are teaching for deeper understanding while also seeking to address the level of rigor and the problem of dramatically increasing college-readiness with assessments aligned to the curriculum they are teaching.

Once states have set the standards for data literacy for licensed educators, measuring whether educators are prepared with those skills before entering the classroom will also be critical.

States and districts should consider incorporating evidence of data-literacy skills into performance evaluations for teachers as long as ongoing high-quality professional development is provided. Receiving feedback on their data use practices and how to improve, enables educators to build on pre-service and in-service training to continually improve practice.

It is essential to provide teachers with actionable, easy to access multiple measures of formative assessment data for developing hypotheses, running queries, and creating customized reports, and for collaborative data action planning and monitoring progress. Excel spreadsheets and Google documents are not enough—nor are they sufficiently secure—to provide quality access to data. Districts have a critical role in supplying educators with technology-based, secure, longitudinal, and school-wide data.

State policymakers will need to continue to ensure that districts have the bandwidth—especially in light of the transition to online assessments—and up-to-date technology and infrastructure necessary for modern data and technology use in schools.

Among the greatest barriers to educators regarding data use is a lack of structured time to collaborate during school days to make use of the information. Districts can share best practices and support schools seeking new solutions for data use, including options such as changing schedules to allow for data-driven professional learning communities, data use training, and using human capital in new ways. Schools and districts can promote data literacy and use by taking the following steps:

  • Understanding how to gather and use student learning data, and other classroom performance data to identify aggregate and individual student needs and set goals for the district or school
  • Understanding how to gather and use teacher performance data to support teachers in meeting the goals for student learning
  • Demonstrating the value of data in meeting student goals by modeling use
  • Providing ongoing, quality training on effective data use and technology
  • Building a culture of effective data use by implementing policies that allow teachers both individual and collaborative time to make use of data as part of a strategy to meet all student learning goals

Federal policymakers should promote, support, and incentivize data literacy through laws, grants, or guidance that provides parameters or resources for educator quality and/or teaching and learning.

These recommendations represent a first step toward supporting teachers’ data literacy. State policymakers, teacher preparation programs, national organizations, and school districts will need to work further to develop the practices needed to promote data literacy.

Sharnell Jackson

Sharnell Jackson

Jackson is an educational leader with over 34 years of exceptional results in data-driven decision-making and educational innovation as a classroom teacher, building administrator, district administrator, and consultant. As former Chief eLearning Officer of Chicago Public Schools, Jackson and her team implemented innovative instructional management, assessment, digital media, and blended on-line learning systems to accelerate student motivation, proficiency, and progress.
Sharnell Jackson