Data Literacy: Understanding Teachers' Data Use in a Context of Accountability and Response to Intervention

From Section:
Assessment & Evaluation
Oct. 10, 2009
Fall 2009

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Vol. 31 no. 3, p. 41-55. Fall 2009.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Within the current high-stakes accountability context, student achievement data have become a central focus for instructional decisions given that teachers are held accountable for student performance. Furthermore, as response to intervention is implemented nationwide to identify and monitor students with disabilities, teachers will be required to use student data and become effective instructional decision makers who tailor instruction to meet the academic needs of all students.

The purpose of this study is to understand the qualitatively different ways that current practicing teachers are using data to inform instruction.


Nine teachers were selected from a representative sample of elementary schools that participate in university's collaborative professional development school (PDS) partnership.
These teachers vary in their level of experience (from 3 to 22 years) and in their understanding of data use.
The nine teachers were from four diverse school contexts that varied in their readiness for data use and data support within the school cultures. These schools were classified based on low, moderate, and high levels of school support around the use of data.

Data collection
Semi-structured interview was conducted with each of the nine teachers. The authors identified common categories related to teachers' ways of experiencing data, by exploring the way that teachers conceive of and use data to inform instruction. Then, the themes were linked to form conceptions that represented the commonality across responses.
As a result, the authors identified six conceptions of how teachers use data to inform instructional decision making.

These conceptions were:
1. Data Use Requires Ongoing Attention to Multiple Sources of Data
2. Data Use Focuses Teachers on Individual Students' Needs
3. Data Use Creates a Sense of Urgency and Serves as a Catalyst for Action
4. Data Use Leads to Changes in Professional Practice
5. Data Use Requires Sophisticated Professional Knowledge
6. Data Use Requires a Culture of Support

Connecting the Conceptions: A Ladder of Data Use
Findings from teacher interviews are presented through the image of a ladder representing the stages that teachers experience as they engage in data usage to inform their instructional decision making.

To begin using data to inform instruction, teachers engage in ongoing attention to multiple sources of data. Attention to these multiple sources of data supports the teachers' focus on the individual needs of students. As teachers begin to focus on their individual students and see their different needs, a sense of urgency develops, serving as a catalyst for action. Finally, the most sophisticated act of using data is to actually use data in a way that leads to action and changes in professional practice.


These findings have implications for teacher educators and school-based practitioners alike in better supporting the professional development of preservice and in-service teachers for this data-driven context of schools.
Teacher educators need to utilize this data ladder to guide curriculum as well as develop meaningful field experiences so that preservice teachers are ready to enter their own classrooms with high levels of data literacy.
School contexts, and school leaders in particular, need to utilize the ladder of data use as well as support in-service teachers as they navigate the context of high-stakes accountability.

Updated: Oct. 28, 2019
Accountability | Elementary school teachers | Intervention | Professional development schools | Students' evaluation | Teacher educators