Background: In the last few decades, a focus on school accountability at the state and federal levels has created expectations for teachers to attend to data in increasingly structured ways. Although professional learning is often cited as an important facilitator of effective data use, research that focuses on the intersection of professional learning and data use is scarce. Examining teacher perceptions of data use supports, and contrasting assertions of what is desired in data-related professional learning with accounts of the ways in which this professional learning actually happens provide an avenue for exploring these issues and for building a research base that can inform the work of district and campus leaders as well as support providers.
Focus of Study: This study aimed at examining teacher needs specific to data-related professional learning through a lens informed by knowledge-based organizational learning. We were guided by two broad questions: (a) What knowledge and skills do teachers need in order to engage in data-informed practice? (b) How do professional learning supports address these needs?
Research Design: The qualitative study draws on document analysis as well as interview and focus group data collected from n=110 participants (teachers, school leaders, and district support staff) in three school districts in central Texas. Flexible a priori coding rooted in our conceptual framework was employed to examine data for themes common across district settings and across school levels (e.g., elementary, middle, high). Code counts were used to further examine areas of professional learning focus and/or apparent imbalance.
Findings: Educators articulated professional learning needs related to data use in six main areas: (a) asking appropriate questions of data (to guide analysis and use); (b) accessing and operating district data systems; (c) data literacy/interpretation; (d) fitting data use with day-do-day practice; (e) sharing information via collaboration; and (f) knowledge codification. Of these, data capture via computer data systems was by far the most prominent focus reported by educators in each district. Clear plans for addressing data use capacity through professional learning supports were lacking.
Recommendations: Taking into account teacher perspectives on what professional learning for data use was needed and on how such supports were, in reality, structured, we make three recommendations: (a) purposefully embed professional learning for data use in ongoing organizational routines; (b) mitigate the district level silos that separate training-on-computer-systems from professional learning focused on turning data into action at the classroom level; and (c) seek balance in supporting the constellation of knowledge and skills that contribute to data use capacity.