Defining Data Literacy for K-12 Educators

Defining Data Literacy for K-12 EducatorsThese days, classroom teachers are asked to do more than ever before: teaching, observing, measuring, intervening, tailoring, personalizing, assessing and being assessed. But do teachers have the information and support they need to succeed at this enormous challenge? All signs point to no. So, we think the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is exactly right. It is about time for data literacy.

In a new report, DQC is asking all of us to better develop and support measurable data literacy skills for educators and policymakers. The report calls for safe access to and smart utilization of data to support student learning and educator practice. The report also defines what a “data literate” educator is and outlines what is required of state and federal policymakers to ensure that every teacher is data literate.

DQC’s report also distinguishes between two terms being used more and more frequently—data literacy and assessment literacy. Although both terms speak to the use of data to drive student learning, DQC is focused on helping teachers learn to employ all data available to them—not just assessments, but attendance data, peer observations and simple classroom observations as well.

Here’s what DQC and its partners are calling for several shifts to make data literacy an integrated aspect of school life for teachers and administrators. Specifically, DQC recommends that we:

Embed the definition of data literacy into teacher policies and guidelines, including program approval, licensure, professional development, and others as relevant.

Use licensure exams and performance assessments to measure whether teachers have obtained the needed data literacy skills before entering the classroom. Once states have set the standards of data literacy for a licensed teacher, it will also be critical to measure whether teachers are prepared with those skills before entering the classroom.

Promote, support, and incentivize quality, ongoing professional development focused on data use to improve instruction, and based on the definition of data literacy. Learning does not stop in college, and as data use best practices and tools change over time, it is critical that teachers receive ongoing training.

Incorporate evidence of teacher data literacy skills into performance evaluations. By providing feedback on their data use practices, and a path toward improvement, educators can continually improve practice.

These are clearly high-level initiatives that will require federal, state and district-level collaboration to be successful – as well as participation from the nation’s teacher preparation programs. A tall order, but one worth tackling.

Why? Because data is a critical tool that can help us finally achieve our highest aspirations for our schools and students – with kids who enjoy and know how to learn, who are prepared to enter college, the military, trades and careers that are the lifeblood of our society, and able to fully partake in the rights and obligations of citizenship.

We at NWEA are doing our part to support the development of data literate teachers. We start with producing high-quality assessments that provide teachers with timely, valid data that help inform differentiated learning. Then, we offer professional development in how to take this data to make instructional decisions, track progress toward goals and communicate with both students and parents.

Now, we want to hear your story. Where are you in your path to data literacy? How about assessment literacy? What data do you find most helpful in supporting student learning and your own professional growth? What resources have you used along the way?

PS: Have you seen the parent and student resources at Take a look and let us know what you think!