Data Literacy – What it is and How it Differs from Assessment Literacy

The bloggers at Teach. Learn. Grow. have contributed a number of posts on the subject of assessment literacy. In fact we have an entire section devoted to the topic. When we talk about assessment-literate educators, we notice that there is a focus on four skill sets:

  • Demonstrating data literacy
  • Knowing how to create and/or select high-quality assessments
  • Knowing how to integrate assessment practices and assessment results into action
  • Knowing how to communicate accurately about student learning

Data Literacy – What it is and How it Differs from Assessment Literacy

Data literacy is first on that list. While frequently confused with assessment literacy, data literacy is its own entity, which takes data into consideration beyond student outcomes (achievement). With the increased use of these two terms in education, along with the increased focus on using evidence (data) to inform educational practice (from classroom decisions to policy decisions), clarity on both of these topics is increasingly important.

In a 2012 report by WestEd, Ellen Mandinach and Edith Gummer stated:

…it is clear that data literacy is complex and highly systemic. Data literacy may form the foundation for data use, but there is an entire landscape around the construct that facilitates or impedes effective data use. It is necessary to examine the knowledge and skills required to understand the landscape in order to understand data literacy as a complex construct.

Data literate educators:

  • know the different kinds of data that exist and which kind of data to use for which decision
  • evaluate the accuracy and sufficiency of each kind of data they will use
  • transform data from a variety of sources (classroom, school, district, state) into actionable information to guide decisions
  • hold themselves accountable for ethical generation, interpretation, and application of assessment data

Differences in what is needed regarding data literacy exist within different stakeholder groups. Consider from the list of actions above, how those might vary for each of these different levels: teacher, school principal, district administrator, higher education, policy maker, or state department of education. The construct for each level is influenced by both the role and the accompanying agendas.

The confusion with these terms affects all stakeholders. The time is now to help clarify for each group what it means to be data literate at their level. Experts agree that a variety of skills are necessary to be able to demonstrate data literacy. Some of these skills include:

  • Developing a habit of mind and practice regarding data use
  • Using inquiry processes
  • Asking significant questions
  • Collecting and organizing data
  • Knowing and understanding data properties
  • Putting data in context (using pedagogical content knowledge)
  • Transforming data into information (synthesizing, probing, prioritizing)
  • Transforming data into application

Efforts by numerous organizations are underway to provide support for educators to enhance their data literacy skills. The Dell Foundation has supported research aimed at clarifying the definition of assessment literacy and identifying the skills necessary for that literacy. WestEd has conducted research and convened experts on the topics of data literacy and data-driven decision making. The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a national, nonprofit that leads conversations focused on advocating and assisting all stakeholders on data issues. DQC’s recent Roadmap for Educator Licensure Policy Addressing Data Literacy: Key Focus Areas to Ensure Quality (PDF) is an example of the efforts to communicate about data literacy at a high level. There is one skill in particular on this roadmap that bears a call out as something each person, each stakeholder, can do: “use one’s own data…and reflect on personal practice for the purpose of continuous improvement.” Regardless of our role or our level, we can use our own data on a regular and ongoing basis to become more data literate.

What is your school currently doing to help educators become more data literate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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