Once the data were clean and the tool was ready, some districts learned that communicating what the data warehouse could do was crucial. One of our study districts targeted teachers first (in contrast to other districts' top-to-bottom approach) and rolled it out quickly to them in less than a year. In that district, the superintendent mandated the use of the data warehouse as a "communication tool." The district also encouraged use in other ways, such as mandating that elementary school report card information be submitted through the Web-based portal.
"For certain tasks, principals and teachers have to use [the data warehouse]. They may never come onto [it] otherwise. Sometimes principals have bulletins, only on [the data warehouse]. Departments post forms that people might need to fill out, only on [the data warehouse]. You hear often in the district, go to [the data warehouse]."
Our respondents from this district felt that forcing school-based staff members to access the Web portal for particular tasks encouraged them to explore other features the data warehouse had to offer.
In another district, teachers were required to use the system for their yearly goal setting. "Since they have to use it to set goals, they have to learn how to use data," said a technology leader from this district. They relied on principals to communicate professional learning opportunities (trainer-of-trainer meetings; technology training on site; pre-service, after-school, and Saturday seminars) and distributed newsletters throughout the district to make sure all audiences were aware of the dates and the kind of training being offered. Communication efforts alone did not bring forth more users, but they were a critical step toward doing so.
Training personnel — especially school-based staff — to use the data warehouse was the most frequent challenge cited by the people we interviewed. Our study districts were challenged by the variety of users and their varying levels of computer and analysis skills. Some teachers and principals, for example, don't know the difference between scrolling and clicking or "what a mouse is"; others become "power users" with only a brief introduction. And whatever their technical abilities, many teachers and instructional leaders are not accustomed to asking powerful questions about the results of their teaching.
In many ways, the desire to foster use of the data warehouse forced central office departments (including information technology, research and evaluation, and curriculum and instruction) to work together in ways they never had before. For example, in one of our study districts, the information technology division worked in conjunction with the research office to integrate training on how to use the technology with information about how to interpret the data generated. Both groups worked closely with instructional staff, especially school-based coaches and other professional development providers. The coaches would then convert their learning into professional development or in-service opportunities for teachers to discuss findings and act on the data.
For the complete text of the report, visit www.annenberginstitute.org/publications/systempubs.html#fromdata.
Tamara Mieles is a research associate in district redesign and Ellen Foley is a principal associate in district redesign at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.