Leveraging Data in the 21st Century

Data analysis is a quickly growing trend and a top priority for school districts across the United States. There are programs and companies aggregating masses of data to help educators identify student needs, group students based on abilities and skills, and provide more insight on student learning. As a fifth-grade classroom teacher, I one-hundred percent supported the use of data in my classroom. I truly believe all educators need to utilize data in the 21st-century classroom; as long as it is used correctly. This article is targeting how to successfully utilize data to impact the instruction in classrooms. This system can be applied to ALL classrooms, including those of instructional support.

The Data Cycle:

Create, Administer, Collect, Analyze, Customize

The phrase using data is broadly stated with multiple interpretations depending on your position and school district. In order for classroom teachers, instructional support coaches, principals, and curriculum supervisors to properly utilize data, they need to follow the appropriate cycle.


Creating is the practice of designing the assessment. Deciding on how to assess the students can include unit tests, benchmark tests, formative quizzes, pretests, and teacher observations. The creation needs to be designed specifically for the intended outcome, how will differentiation take place based on the data presented. The creation will typically assess prior content knowledge or specific standards-based skills. As educators it is our job to provide students with the ability to master standards-based skills; we also should be aware if students have those skills before entering our classroom. After deciding on what will be used to assess students; the next important decision is the tools to use.


Administering is the means by which the students will complete the assessment. Timing is a key aspect. Teachers should conduct the assessment based on the skills and the timing of instruction. Pre-assessments should happen before the unit begins, skills checks should occur throughout the unit, and at the end of the unit. This is strongly dependent on the modality of the assessment.

In the 21st century classroom, there are countless tools available, including paid services some districts utilize. Additional free technology-based tools include Google Forms, Socrative, Quizizz, and Schoology/Canvas quizzes. There is no need to always utilize technology, a simple ticket out the door can be a modality of data collection.


Collecting the data is how the educator is obtaining and aggregating the information from the students. The process in which the data is collected is purely based on how the data is constructed and administered. The collection phase includes grading the material. Grading the material identifies mastery of skills and tags those skills to standards. Lastly, the results need to be inputted into an organizational structure. The means of grading, tagging standards, and organizing is completely determined by the modality of the assessment. If the educator takes advantage of online tools, grading, tagging standards, and organizing could be completed automatically.


Analyzing is where the educator can finally learn from the data. Once the information is collected, the educator can look at specific standards and skills to identify student trends. These student trends can identify falling short, excelling at high rates, or missing understanding of one or two specific standards. It allows educators to take an objective look at student’s abilities. The analyzing phase quickly blends in with the next phase. Educators may flip back and forth between analyzing and customizing.

Customizing is the process of using the conclusions drawn during analysis to differentiate instruction. If it is a pre-assessment, the educator can pinpoint students who can skip basic instruction and start with challenging enrichment activities. If it is a mid-unit formative assessment, educators can identify students who have yet to master the skills and need extra remediation. Unit assessments can identify students who still have not mastered the content and should be receiving remediation on the skills during instructional support times built into the classroom.

Understanding the five phases of the cycle of data is important, but more important is correctly allocating time in the cycle. Educators only have so much time, and despite always putting in the extra hours, they continually are given more responsibilities and not any more time.


Analyzing and Customizing are by far the most important aspects of data. It is truly the only reason we should utilize data; impact the instruction taking place in the classroom. Any other reason for data collection does not benefit students. Analyzing and Customizing should account for 80% of the total data cycle. Classroom teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and supervisors need to spend time analyzing and changing instruction for the students’ needs. These needs of students will change every year. The standards and modalities of assessment will not.


Constructing, Administering, and Collecting are left with 20% of the pie. We cannot devalue the vital role these phases play in the cycle, however, time spent here does not impact instruction. The type of assessment and purpose of the assessment will affect how the 20% is allocated. Too often, these phases consume too much time, reducing the amount of customization taking place.


The Role of Leaders:

Instructional leaders need to help facilitate environments to create the opportunity to successfully work in the data cycle. It is the professional responsibility of curriculum leaders, building leaders, core teams, and classroom teachers to play an active role in all five phases of the data cycle.

Leaders cannot be expected to always be responsible for the first three phases. However, it is their responsibility to create assessments used across the district. Additionally, leaders can create an opportunity for collaboration amongst grade level teams and schools. They can create systems where teachers are all contributing to commonly used assessments.

Lastly, it is the responsibilities of leaders to help coach classroom teachers on how to effectively participate in the analysis and customization. Instructing them on how to find key indicators and how to adjust instruction.

In Conclusion:

The utilization of data is overwhelming at first but needs to be incorporated into schools. All educators need to keep one key aspect in mind when utilizing data, we use it to help provide better instruction for our children to succeed.

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