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Data Use Guidance

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

Focus on the goal, not the process

As your team engages the data collection process, you may find yourselves becoming a slave to this stage of the process. Don't think you have to be absolutely thorough in the data collection process. If you can not find data on every student, or only 75% of the teachers return a questionnaire, rather than spending months chasing down missing information, see what the data you have tells you.

Remember your goal is not "data collection," but rather, using information to make better decisions. Use what data you have and focus on what can be learned from the data you have. Keep the "why" you are collecting the data firmly in your mind.

Defuse skepticism about the data

It is human nature for faculty to question the data before looking at the data's implications. Do not be surprised if staff harps on missing data, challenge the indicators, criticize the presentation, or question the analysis before they are ready to talk about what the data mean. While some of this skepticism is healthy and creates an analytic frame of mind, too much of it can serve as a diversion of what really need to get done.Double-check and triple check the data

It is easy to summarize and assemble data with errors. Before bringing your final data to the table, ask yourself what jumps out and surprises you. What is intuitive and what isn't? Sometimes, what seems surprising is actually a mistake in the data or evidence of some other problem (data input error).Use data to check your assumptions

As you work with the data and begin to focus its implications to your reform efforts, you will likely develop assumptions about the causes for some of your findings. It is critically important that your team check some of your assumptions before making too many decisions based on them.It would be interesting to see if …

As your faculty begins to work with the data, some one is certain to say, "Wouldn't it be nice if we knew …" Data analysis will often lead us towards more data collection. Data points us in a direction and sometimes we need more data to get us to our destination. Be careful not to get into a we need more data trap. If you need more information, then you should be able to answer the question, "How would having that information help us to make a better decision?"

Excerpt from Using Data to Improve Schools, from the former New England Comprehensive Assistance Center

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