Why data literacy training is important, and how I-TECH helps

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Data use is a key element of quality teaching – but how can teachers become experts in this subject?

Teachers can use data – along with their experience in the classroom – to understand where their students excel or struggle, and to target their instruction to meet student needs. As a result of significant state and federal investment in data systems and tools, teachers have access to better data about their students’ performance than ever before.

However, access to quality data is not enough. Teachers must be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to use data effectively. According to the Data Quality Campaign’s Data for Action 2014 survey, only 13 states require data literacy for both educator certification and education preparation program approval. There is an obvious need to prioritize and raise awareness around data literacy.

To date, state and federal policies have not gone far enough to promote the skills teachers need to be data literate. Although teachers often do get training on how to access data systems and reports, they receive minimal, if any, in-service training on how to translate data into instructional decisions or activities in the classroom.

That’s where the Senate’s I-TECH (which stands for Innovative Technology Expands Children’s Horizons) program comes in. Introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wash., it’s an amendment to the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization effort, the Every Child Achieves Act.

If approved, half of the program’s budget would be reserved for educators’ professional development. Districts would be required to submit to the state an application that may include a “description of how the local educational agency will build capacity for principals and local educational agency administrators to support teachers in developing data literacy skills.”

These additional funds will greatly benefit districts that are currently strapped for cash, enabling them to provide data literacy training to teachers and administrators so they can learn the critically important skills required to effectively and ethically use data and to safeguard student privacy.

Perhaps more importantly, data literacy training is absolutely critical to safeguarding student data. Student data privacy is at the forefront of the national conversation around education. (In 2015 alone, 47 states introduced 186 bills addressing student data privacy). Many parents’ privacy concerns center on the misuse of student data. In order to protect against that, individuals in schools and districts need training and support to build a culture of trust and to implement best practices in data privacy and security.

In recommendations for federal policymakers, DQC and its partners emphasize the need to support state and local capacity to safeguard student data through increased funding for training and professional development.

It is anyone’s guess if this is the year that ESEA will finally be reauthorized, but now that we have a speaker of the House, we are hopeful that these conversations can resume in earnest. It is our hope that this program is maintained through ESEA conference, adequately funded, and ultimately encourages states and districts to prioritize educator data literacy.

Paige Kowalski is vice president of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for the effective use of education data.

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