How Can Schools of Education Help to Build Educators’ Capacity to Use Data? A Systemic View of the Issue

Mar. 01, 2015

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 117, No.4, March 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The objective of this article is to understand what schools of education are doing to prepare teachers to use data in their practice. The study examined the extent to which schools of education teach stand-alone courses on data-driven decision making or integrate data use concepts into existing courses. It also examined state licensure and certification requirements to determine if and how data use is included in documentation.

A stratified randomized sample of schools of education was drawn with 208 institutions responding.
The study reported here contains three components that, in combination, are intended to provide a comprehensive picture of what schools of education are doing to prepare teachers to use data. The first component is a survey to schools of education to ascertain if they have stand-alone courses on data-related concepts or if they integrate data use into existing suites of courses.
The second component is a review of syllabi.
The third component is an analysis of state licensure requirements, recognizing that schools of education must be responsive, to some degree, to the requirements for the licensure of their graduates.


The analyses yield several key findings. First, schools of education report that they are teaching stand-alone courses on data-driven decision making. They also report that they are integrating data use concepts into existing courses. Additionally, schools of education expect to introduce courses on data use in the future. The survey results also indicate that there is a clear emphasis on assessment and assessment data, with much less focus on non-assessment data.
The syllabus analyses provide a deeper examination into what actually is being taught in a subset of the courses.
The licensure analyses provide a perspective on how education may view data literacy.
Another issue is the level at which the licensure documentation might be written to have maximum impact on the course offerings in schools of education. The language found in the licensure documents is necessarily quite general. The documents provide a high-level view of what skills and knowledge teacher candidates should demonstrate.

In addition, many deans have said that they want to include data courses in their curricula, but they have encountered several obstacles. First, they have no flexibility in their curriculum to offer a data course. To that problem, we suggest integrating data into existing courses.
Second, they have no one capable of teaching data courses. One solution may be the development of virtual materials designed by experts that professors can integrate into their courses.
Third, data use is not considered sufficiently important to allocate a faculty slot. The virtual solution again might be viable. Bringing in a local district’s data expert as an adjunct might be possible. Contracting with some of the known professional development or technical assistance providers might be another option.
Further, schools of education do not function in isolation. There are many other influences on them. Currently, there is increasing pressure for the evaluation of teachers once they have left their preparation programs. Teachers’ subsequent performance is seen as a reflection of the preparation programs. This trend brings into the equation at least three other variables: the credentialing or licensure agencies; testing organizations; and local school districts. The licensure agencies can tighten their requirements, and schools of education can decide whether to respond.


Even though schools of education reported that they are teaching about data-driven decision making in their teacher preparation programs, the results indicate that the content is more about assessment literacy than data literacy. Assessments are a major source of data for teachers, but other data are also important.
The authors argue that this is an opportunity for a teachable moment for the field in that we can use these results to begin conversations with policy makers, professional organizations, institutions of higher education, licensure agencies, and even testing organizations to help them recognize the nuances of the two constructs. These conversations have already begun. The challenge lies in fomenting actual change in thinking and practice. Awareness is a first step, done through a process of educative presentations, discussions, and meetings. But this must be broad based, not isolated. It must be systemic. Stimulating real reform is a much longer and more complex process, one that will require the acceptance and willingness of many different stakeholder groups. Change comes slowly, but this change is important if educators are to keep pace with other professionals in terms of their ability to use evidence and data to inform their practice.

Updated: Mar. 13, 2017