From Compliance to Continuous Improvement: Creating a Culture of High-Quality Data

Effective data use is about more than just having the right data. It requires an intentional culture that prioritizes continuous improvement and empowers people with the skills and time to use data in service of student learning. The COVID-19 crisis has transformed teaching and learning, bringing to light new questions about students’ and teachers’ needs. Having the right data tools and practices in place will help state leaders be nimble and responsive to answer these questions and provide critical supports to local leaders, students, and families.

To create this culture, leaders should focus on the following:

  • Push beyond box checking. When data is used exclusively for compliance purposes, data use can be seen as a discrete task for certain teams. To address this, data should be used in a variety of ways, including to identify priorities, guide decision making, and continuously improve practices. By embedding data use into all types of work, it normalizes the practice and helps people understand the value of data beyond compliance.
  • Break down silos. Data should be part of everyone’s job. Data use might look different for different people, but, when everyone engages with it, data becomes a common language that supports a more collaborative and strategic approach to decision making.
  • Build capacity. It’s not enough to just give people data. Teams must be empowered with the tools and time they need to effectively access and use it.

And none of this culture building is possible without strong and committed leadership. Positive and enduring cultures of data use require leaders who

  • see this work as a strategic necessity;
  • have a clear vision for this work and can set clear and achievable goals; and
  • prioritize building a broad coalition of support that centers on transparency, which helps sustain the work through leadership or staff changes.

Discussions with Samantha Hollins (Virginia Department of Education) and Scott Norton (Illinois State Board of Education) during the IDC 2020 Interactive Institute and Virtual Select Sessions highlighted what these recommendations look like in practice. In their remarks, both Samantha and Scott emphasized the need to have a clear vision for this work and shared examples of how their departments use data not only to inform decisionmaking but also to support collaboration and more strategic decisionmaking. In Illinois, a focus on data transparency and use resulted in the inclusion of special education data in the state’s report card. And in Virginia, a culture of data use that centers continuous improvement and support helped spur the state agency to provide more targeted technical assistance to local education agency leaders.