Is All This Data Analysis Making a Difference?

At the elementary school where I taught for 13 years, we would have twice a year meetings called Data Days. Our grade-level team would meet with the principal, the literacy coaches, and the special needs teachers to analyze all the assessment data we had on all the students in our grade level. We took this as an article of faith that these meetings were useful and made a difference with our students’ growth. Upon reflection, was all this time and effort spent analyzing assessment data worthwhile? Did it make a difference with the students in our grade level?

grade level team meeting for data days
A grade-level team meeting for Data Days

These are some of the questions that we would ask ourselves often but were not sure of what difference, if any, it was making. Being able to look at research or to learn from other educators who have experienced the same thing makes a difference. Heather Hill, Sebastian Wernicke, and Tricia Wang, each of whom bring varied backgrounds and experiences in data analysis, have some insightful perspectives on this topic worth considering.

Heather Hill, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote an article that speaks to these questions. In her article, “Does Studying Student Data Really Raise Test Scores?”, Hill states:

“Yet understanding students’ weaknesses is only useful if it changes practice. And, to date, evidence suggests that it does not change practice—or student outcomes. Focusing on the problem has likely distracted us from focusing on the solution. In total, the research in this area suggests that district and school leaders should rethink their use of state and interim assessments as the focus of teacher collaboration.”

Sebastian Wernicke, chief data scientist at ONE LOGIC, states in his TED talk video: How to Use Data to Make a Hit TV Show:

“So data is of course a massively useful tool to make better decisions, but I believe that things go wrong when data is starting to drive those decisions. No matter how powerful, data is just a tool, but I believe it’s still on us to make the decisions if we want to achieve something extraordinary.”

How to use data to make a hit TV show

Tricia Wang, a technology ethnographer, states in her TED talk video: The Human Insights Missing From Big Data:

“We have this thing that I call the quantification bias, which is the unconscious belief of valuing the measurable over the immeasurable. There’s nothing wrong with quantifying; it’s actually very satisfying. I get a great sense of comfort from looking at an Excel spreadsheet, even very simple ones. But the problem is that quantifying is addictive. And when we forget that and when we don’t have something to kind of keep that in check, it’s very easy to just throw out data (qualitative information) because it can’t be expressed as a numerical value.”

The human insights missing from big data

Reflecting on my time as a teacher these ideas ring true: too much time spent focusing on the numbers, highlighting the problems vs. conversations around solutions leading to clear action plans. We would keep looking at the data hoping a solution would magically appear. But just looking at the numbers won’t lead to the desired outcomes. How do we address the challenge resulting from this overemphasis on data analysis?

Class Composer’s Data Analysis Philosophy: Make it More Efficient and Student-Centered

When teachers meet to look at data, one key challenge to overcome is data silos. Useful information is often stored in different locations and formats making it time-consuming and frustrating to get a holistic view of each student. The time spent overcoming the data silo challenges should be used on having conversations leading to solutions.  

We also believe to really make a difference to help our students grow we need to move from the high-level view of the data to look at data in the context of each student. At our Data Days, the conversations would naturally flow to talking about individual students. What can we do to help this one child?  Without having easily accessible data encompassing the whole child, it’s difficult to make well-informed decisions.

Class Composer Makes Data Analysis More Efficient and Student-Centered

The foundation of Class Composer is our Student Card which makes it simple to get a holistic portrait of each student. The Student Card includes:

  • Name, gender, goes by name, student id, and teacher name.
  • Student picture.
  • Academic scores: Reading, Math, and Writing.
  • Life Skills scores: Behavior and Work Skills
  • Identifiers.
  • Assessment scores.
  • Teacher notes.
  • Progress Monitoring data.
  • Historical data.
  • Placement Requests: Do Not Place with Student,  Keep with Student, and Keep with Teacher
student card with student picture
Class Composer Student Card

From here the data flows into various Digital Data Wall views which makes it easy to look at grade level trends, create new class lists, or create intervention groups using our Virtual Whiteboard:

class composer digital data wall
Class Composer Digital Data Wall

Using our Digital Data Wall with the student pictures displayed in the Student Cells can be a powerful way to personalize data analysis to make a difference with individual students. Lyn Sharratt, educational consultant and co-author of Putting Faces on the Data: What Great Leaders Do! (2012), states in the video Building Capacity: Data Walls and Case Management:

“Teachers told us that when there were data walls with students’ faces on them and they could see who all the students were and how they were doing it made a difference to them. Having the data walls allows them to look at all the students and think about which of the students really need to come to a case management meeting and really have folks sitting around the table to focus on the face through the student work to look at strategies in terms of assessment and instruction that may move that student forward. Teachers have an opportunity to listen to the recommendations (at the case management meeting) and then come back in two to three weeks having tried these suggestions and let the team know how it’s going and whether they need further assistance or not.”

Building Capacity: Data Walls and Case Management

Data analysis is important and can make a difference if we can make it efficient and student-centered. With Class Composer, you can accomplish these goals and give time back to your teachers for collaboration to focus on what matters: solutions.   


  • Mike Cronley

    Mike Cronley is the CEO and Co-founder of Class Composer. He taught 3rd grade for 12 years at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary in Westminster, Colorado.