Educational data use and computer data systems : policies, plans, and the enactment of practice

Cho, Vincent, Ph. D.
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Federal policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTT) stand as examples of how teachers face increasing expectations that their activities be “data-based” or “data-driven.” Meeting these expectations requires assembling and analyzing a wide variety of data about students (e.g., demographics, discipline, locally designed tests, state test results, or longitudinal information). Computer data systems are commonly assumed to facilitate the work of educational data use. Indeed, the availability and computing power of these systems have continued to expand, further increasing the promises that these technologies hold for enhancing teaching and learning. Meaningful and widespread changes to teachers’ practices, however, have typically not occurred on a large-scale or systemic basis. Therefore, in this comparative case study of three school districts I examine the nature of districts’ efforts to improve teachers’ data use via computer data systems. I do so by examining the worldviews of various job roles in each district about data use and computer data systems. An erroneous assumption commonly made by districts was that these technologies are imbued with self-evident and predetermined effects on teacher work. Accordingly, the findings from this study speak to issues of sensemaking in districts. In them, I describe not only how teachers’ perspectives shaped their practices, but also how the alignment of perspectives among district roles influenced the implementation and success of district initiatives around computer data systems. As such, this study has implications for how districts plan, implement, and learn from initiatives around data use.