Back to School Planning: Deliberate Data Use

June 26, 2020
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At ClassLink, we developed a rubric for back to school planning, in partnership with CoSN and SETDA. Assessment and data are one of the core elements included in the tool. In this post, we dive deeper into the factors districts should weigh when planning to collect and use data during the upcoming school year.

Back to school planning is in full swing. Budgets are coming together. Tough decisions are being made. As part of this process, districts are soliciting feedback and consulting available data. Input and data are essential when crafting plans. Not data for data's sake or to check a box... data to guide deliberate decisions about how to best serve students.

Taking stock of what you have, and what you need, increases the utility of the plan you are pulling together. Setting systems up for future data collection will make reopening schools smoother. This is not an easy task, but one that should lead to greater success because intentionally using data drives better decisions. It creates a common understanding. It facilitates buy-in. It guides strategy.

What data do you have now?

First, figure out what data exists for crafting plans. Feedback data is critical. Many districts surveyed their students, parents, and teachers to learn what went well, and what didn't, in spring 2020. Others hosted feedback sessions to collect this type of data. Either way, the feedback received is valuable in making better decisions about school reopening. Couple this data with other sources, both from the district and other industries. Below are some sources that come to mind to determine curriculum and pacing decisions.

  • Work or assessments completed during spring 2020
  • Data from the latest universal screener
  • Unaddressed standards due to early closure or inconsistent access to remote learning
  • Usage data or attendance during remote learning (addressed in a previous post)
  • Enrollment data

Other sources to consider include, but are not limited to,

  • Funding information
  • Economic data, such as unemployment rates in communities served
  • Prevalence of COVID-19 cases in the community throughout the summer

What data do you need?

Are there any gaps in data you can fill before school resumes? Ask yourself, "If I knew more about X, could I make a better decision about reopening schools?" Perhaps you need to know more about parental thoughts on sending students back to brick and mortar schools. Can you collect this from a short survey or random sample call?

When school resumes, additional data collections can help adjust plans and evaluate the strategies you put in place. Some of this data will reflect the typical assessments, such as universal screeners. Consider collecting ongoing data on,

Although there is an ease in using data sources from prior school years, you should consider whether they provide information that helps in the current environment. You should also determine what changes need to be made to how the data is used (i.e., identification protocols). For example, increases in Tier 2 identification likely require a different response in 2020-21, one tied to Tier 1 supports. Identify data sources that are accurate and align with the questions for which you need answers. Data to address COVID-19 specific challenges, such as students’ well-being, unfinished learning, and learning loss. How will you measure this in the short-term? What about persistent effects in the long-term? For example, you can ensure teachers are implementing formative assessment processes into their minute to minute instruction. This type of data, derived from intentional, teaching interactions, is the most instructionally useful. When implemented well, it is fine-grained, curriculum-aligned, and timely.

In addition to planning for what type of data to collect and how to use it, you should also make deliberate decisions about when to collect it and how to prepare educators. Prioritizing student well-being over assessment collections at the start of the year may align more with your district’s goals than diving into diagnostic assessments. From a measurement perspective, you may also glean a more accurate picture of student content mastery through a formative assessment process once new learning begins. The final consideration is often the most overlooked. Teacher assessment literacy is essential to making meaning of the data collected and using it to drive action. Finding ways to incorporate this type of training into teacher professional development may seem impossible at this time. However, the value of assessment data comes in its use, not its existence. Attending to teacher knowledge of assessment use is non-negotiable to achieve deliberate data use.

How will you track data?

Ensure you have systems that allow for tracking the data points you prioritize. This will allow for a more seamless integration of data into your routines. These systems will connect dots and provide a holistic view of each student. Security and protection of each student's private information are non-negotiable for systems. Beyond this, the systems you choose to use are dependent on pre-existing resources and funding. The key is to provide a central location for educators to access all the data they need to understand students' needs. This may be sophisticated or something akin to an electronic data binder. Either way, its existence sets expectations for using data and makes it easier to do so.


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About the Author

About the Authors

Mary Batiwalla

Sr. Director of Data & Analytics



For over a decade Mary has dedicated her career to education, serving as a practitioner, researcher, and executive leader. In her most recent role as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, she led assessments, accountability, and data governance.