I was lucky to be talking with the fabulous Bob Swiggum, the Georgia Department of Education’s chief information officer, in our offices today, and he brought up a point that I have tried to express here before: Data systems are useless if they’re not useful. It seems like an over-simplification I know, but hearing a state CIO who has done so much great data work in Georgia emphasize it has pushed me to reemphasize it. It goes back to the point I’ve discussed before about not doing data to teachers, but creating data systems for teachers.

So what does usefulness in data systems mean? It’s easy to assume that as long as we give teachers their students’ growth SCOREs and attendance and grades and behavior and the dozens of other data points that can make a difference in the classroom, that they will look at them and be able to automatically improve their instruction. Now I have not done an in-depth study on this point, but from the conversations with states and educators we hold at DQC, I know this to be an incorrect assumption. The challenge here is in understanding what data presentations that are actually useful and meaningful to teachers might look like, and because of that I thought I’d show you what a good one looks like—this one is from the teacher dashboard in Arkansas, called hive.

Teacher Data Dashboard from Arkansas

This view allows teachers to compare how their students fare on math versus science. Dots are color coded by race.  It also represents just one of multiple ways educators in Arkansas can access and view their students’ data. These charts are also available for teachers, plotting their own growth SCOREs on specific subjects. As Arkansas continues to work on hive and its other platforms, including by making these data easier to access, educators will have access to even more information about students.

While Tennessee educators do have access to data visualizations, some states, like Arkansas, are really leading the way in transforming data into something that is actionable. Fellow Tennesseans, let me put this in a way that should boil your blood—those Razorbacks are beating us Volunteers. In this particular match up, we’re lagging behind on providing totally vital input on student learning. The Arkansas dashboard provides teachers with timely, actionable, easy-to-read information that they can use—right now—to help a struggling student or push that middle-of-the-pack kid over the top.

Educators, advocates, and policymakers all need to demand data that look like this (or this). As we say at DQC, let’s not sacrifice the good for the perfect. When the state first puts out data, it might not be exactly what you’re looking for—tell them! The state agency should be working collaboratively with districts and others to ensure this information is useful to teachers. The sooner teachers have the data they need—in a useful format—the sooner we will see classroom practice change in a way that improves student learning in Tennessee and nationwide. Let’s not let those Razorbacks get too far ahead.

Feel like I sold Tennessee short? Share with us how the state or your district is providing data that you use to impact student learning! Let me know at Brennan@dataqualitycampaign.org