Data Unicorns & Utopia

As I travel around this fantastic state of North Dakota, I am noticing a theme – a theme of two camps of data consumers.  The first camp tends to naturally be inclined to accept the necessity of data as well as hold the innate ability to take action with that data.  The second camp tends to be frustrated with the collecting of data and/or the notion of what to do with it once it’s there.  A dichotomy exists and I couldn’t help but start to think about why.  Why is there a positive feeling for some and a negative for others?

So far, my answer is simple.  It appears to me that some are lacking the knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors necessary to truly be using data effectively.  It doesn’t make them wrong or bad, it just makes them have a need for learning to occur.  This makes sense to me.  As a previous fourth grade teacher, I know there are always gaps in knowledge from one student to the next.  Some can grasp long division right away without much instruction; it just comes to them.  Others take more explicit instruction, more breaking down of the steps, and more repeating of the process.  Neither camp of fourth grade long division students is better than the other; they are simply different and they need different resources and teaching.

Same for data consumers in our educational world. The naturally inclined data users don’t need as much to get them going while the frustrated data users need more, they need deeper, and they need it soon as we all know using data to drive instructional decisions isn’t going anywhere in the near future.  A great tool for starting to learn more about the foundational background information is the SLDS Data Use Standards: Knowledge, Skills, and Professional Behaviors for Effective Data Use document.  It was written by a team of 28 members representing 13 states, including the previous ND Data Steward Cory Steiner, with the goal of increasing the effective use of data by teachers and administrators to support student learning and success.

I have said before, and will continue to say, that whatever we do today…should affect a student tomorrow.  Data is under this umbrella and I’m so glad to know this resource was primarily written with the intent to support student learning as that is the crux of the need for data in the first place.  The document is extremely reader friendly and explains many categories within each of the following three main headings.

Knowledge:  Familiarity with the nature of data and concepts underlying data use; includes the learning and theory that education communities need as a foundation for using data to improve educational outcomes.


Skills:  The ability to access, collect, analyze, interpret, act on, and communicate about data using appropriate tools and representations in a manner appropriate for the educator’s professional role and responsibility.


Professional Behaviors:  Habits of professional actions based on value and beliefs that underlie an educator’s practice as it is related to data use.

This resource can be found on the Educational Technology Council’s main webpage on the right hand side under links and I highly recommend using it to help take those currently experiencing data frustration to a more “feel good” place with it.  Use it as step one to starting the data learning process.

I can be a bit dramatic so bear with me as I say this next part and please remember I’ll always be an elementary teacher at heart.  This time I’ll leave out the songs, claps, and cheers but I will say this…

I do believe we can truly go from data frustration to data utopia if we have all of the necessary pieces working within ourselves first – if we have the right knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors.  We can get there, to a place where one might really feel the need to jump in the air and exclaim, “If unicorns really existed, this would absolutely be where they live.”

And yes, this is me.  I feel like I live in data utopia and my goal is to help everyone else get there too.

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