Experts are optimistic about the future of data-driven education, given that teachers are provided the appropriate training.

Schools are using data to move toward personalization, evidence-based learning, efficiency, and continuous education, according to a report from the Center for Data Innovation.

“The magic of having an iPad is you can do things differently. You can teach things differently,” said Chip Slaven, counsel to the president and senior advocacy adviser for Alliance for Excellent Education.

However, policymakers and educators need more opportunities to educate themselves on how to use data to achieve educational goals, communicate with parents, and engage in conversations about data within the schools, according to Slaven.

“It can be tempting to look at [data] as a silver bullet,” said Sarah Holland, public policy manager for Google.

Holland said that districts need to invest more money into professional development on data use for teachers and administers, rather than expecting the technology to do all of the work in improving learning. Holland said that data should be looked at as another “tool in the toolbox” for teachers when explaining a concept to students.

About two dozen states include data literacy in their teacher training programs, according to Paige Kowalski, executive vice president for the Data Quality Campaign.

“Teachers need to come in and understand that there are different sources of data,” Kowalski said. “How do I put all that information together?”

Kowalski said that training needs to happen within the schools so that teachers can learn how data will help their specific students with certain lessons. In Georgia, the schools allow every parent to access their child’s longitudinal data history with links to resources that make sense of the data and offer resources to help students improve, according to Kowalski.

Slaven said that the incoming Trump administration plans to continue the Future Ready Schools Initiative, which asks administrators to sign a pledge that they will use personalized, research-based digital learning strategies in their schools. However, President-elect Donald Trump has not released any official plans for education policy.

“That program is not going anywhere,” Slaven said.

More than 2,900 superintendents have taken the Future Ready Schools pledge, within the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, which allows them to attend summits and use the website that gives them information and tools to use data-based learning.

Slaven said that Trump’s administration should make funding training for teachers and administrators on how to use data a priority for education policy.

Some schools are moving from providing one tablet to each student, to providing one tablet, one laptop, and one mobile device to each student because some activities work better on certain platforms, according to Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

“If a superintendent came to me and said ‘I’m going to buy laptops,’ my first question would be ‘and use them how?’” Slaven said.

Schools need to begin thinking about the technologies and applications they should purchase by first defining the outcomes they want to achieve and the standard they’re trying to teach. The decision to purchase new technologies is critical for schools because most districts rely on sporadic grants to fund technology acquisition, according to Weeks.

One problem with integrating technology into school communities is the lack of access to high-speed broadband in some communities, according to Weeks.

“Data and technology could be the game changer to improve equity but it could also do the exact opposite,” said Slaven.

Some school districts have enabled their school buses with Wi-Fi and parked them in neighborhoods overnight so that students would have an Internet hot spot to complete their homework in order to combat the lack of broadband availability.

“It’s incredibly creative that they’re doing that but it’s also incredibly sad that they have to do that,” Slaven said.

Parents and teachers should be aware of privacy concerns that arise when student data is being collected, but schools should work to put concerns in perspective, according to Kowalski.

“I’ve never heard a teacher, in every analysis, in every poll that has said they want less information,” Kowalski said.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.