10 top tips for using data in schools

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There is so much data available in schools that it can be overwhelming; whole school, cohort, comparisons within a cohort, historical comparisons, subject, class, individual student, teacher-generated. So if you want the data to make a real impact on student achievement, where do you start?

It’s important to remember that data is inert, it does not make judgements.

The person analysing the data makes the judgements, or better still uses the data to ask questions.

Using multiple data sources is important to make any questions valid. However, having too many different pieces of information can confuse – therefore, management of the data is key.

“Data has the potential to transform education from a model of mass production to a personalized experience that meets the needs of individuals and ensures that no student is lost along the way!”

DQC, Data Quality Campaign April 2016.

What data to consider?

  1. Teacher-generated levels need to be accurate and consistent across different teachers, classes, cohorts and historically. Therefore, clear criteria are required whether in the assessment objectives, the mark schemes, the moderation of marking, or the reporting of current and predicted grades.
  2. Baseline tests are not based on subject knowledge and have been shown to be very accurate. However, using them to interpret outcomes across subjects can take some skill and understanding of statistics. Therefore, understanding how to interpret data is important, and schools should use staff knowledge and experience as well as the data to underpin any judgements that they make.
  3. Data is not just about numbers. Significant information that can impact student learning can also be taken from pastoral information such as attendance, behaviour, self-evaluation, and reports on attitudes.

Regular Reporting

Data goes out of date, so regular reporting is important. Many schools report every half term (6 times a year) or every term (3 times a year).

  1. Use data to raise questions and inform the decisions, for example, setting, subject options, reporting to parents.
  2. It is important to give teachers and pupils enough time to show progress and it is important that senior leaders have an understanding of how different subjects function. For example, in a knowledge-based subject the levels/grades will improve within a module or topic as the pupil studies it but remember there will be a dip once the pupil moves onto a new module or topic.

Who should have access to the data?

  1. Consider your audience – does everyone need to know everything? And therefore, what is the best format to present the information? There will have to be some reporting to parents and pupils – so making sure the language is appropriate and explanations are clear to avoid misunderstandings is crucial.
  2. Consider accountability and transparency. Data should not be a mystery or a secret, this leads to mistrust and concerns of management judgement. It is also key to understand the principles upon which forecasts and predicted grades are made. Remember that over-inflating the forecast grades demoralises students and teachers alike and creates an atmosphere of mistrust. Often teachers will over-estimate if they feel they are being judged or under-estimate especially for public exams or to “motivate” pupils. Therefore, staff training is very important.
  3. It is important at departmental level to have consistency and a shared understanding by making sharing good practice and moderation of marking a regular focus in departmental meetings.

How to transform your school

  1. While all teaching staff need to know how to administer assessments and tests and improve the accuracy and consistency of their data, there is also a need for school leaders to have high levels of assessment and data skills.
  2. As a senior leader you should consider what system for data collection and interpretation you already have in place, if any. Audit what you have and also staff attitudes. Do you currently have a way of measuring data effectiveness in your school? What are the school’s strengths? Where are the challenges? Have you got an improvement plan? How can you measure the impact of any improvements that are put in place?

Data: Friend or Foe?

Data is just data, it is neither friend nor foe.

To use data really successfully, you need a good quality whole school data system with effective management.

This includes good quality data generation and reporting, appropriate data for each audience in a suitable format and on-going training on how to interpret the data with a clear vision on what the data is used for.

Find out more:

Read our case studies to find out how CEM data can help you.

Book now for the Cambridge Assessment 2020 sessions of the A101: Introducing the Principles of Assessment and A102: Introducing Assessment Practice online courses.

About the author:

Suzanne Crocker has worked for 4 years at Cambridge Assessment working with international syllabuses from Primary to Upper Secondary. Prior to that, she spent 13 years teaching in Secondary schools, and has subject expertise in languages, Leisure and Tourism and Business Studies.

Suzanne’s key area of management expertise is whole school data and progression tracking, and using data to identify and support underachieving pupils, as well as designing intervention strategies to improve outcomes.


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