By | Dara Marin Prais, PhD
When you think of “data,” what comes to mind? For many people, if not most, initial thoughts lean toward quantitative or numerical values that can be statistically analyzed instead of qualitative or non-numerical data gathered from interviews, focus groups, observations, etc. The same is true when it comes to discussing data in education. More often than not, educational data is viewed as merely the numerical values related to students and assessments, as it is abundant and often easier to identify patterns and trends with such data. As expressed by Denver metro community members, current practices regarding the use of data within education largely serves to depersonalize students and their experiences. Buzzwords such as “data-informed decision-making” and “data-driven teaching/instruction” often drive the hyperfocus on quantitative data. However, quantitative data is limited in providing a complete understanding of educational issues. It often lacks the contextual information necessary to understand the complexity of educational problems and may not capture essential nuances or variations in student experiences. With this in mind, it begs the question of not just what is the role of data in education?, but, more importantly, what should be the role of data in education?
Utilizing qualitative and quantitative data is a necessary practice in education because it allows for a more comprehensive understanding of educational outcomes and issues. Quantitative data provides a valuable tool for identifying trends and patterns in student performance, evaluating the effectiveness of policies and interventions, and making informed decisions about resource allocation. Qualitative data, on the other hand, provides insights into the lived experiences of teachers, students, parents, and community members and can help to identify the root causes of educational challenges and inform the development of more effective solutions. Using both data types provides a more holistic understanding of educational issues, which can inform more effective decision-making and improvement efforts.
To adequately support different educational communities, it is paramount to understand what data and information are most important to and/or needed for each of the different groups. This will help prioritize collecting and analyzing such data and ensure it is available in accessible and meaningful formats. This can help to build trust and collaboration between groups and ensure that educational decisions are informed by diverse perspectives and experiences.
Once priorities and needs are understood, increasing the use of both qualitative and quantitative data requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to collaboration and communication. This means involving teachers, parents, students, and community members in the data collection and analysis process and ensuring that data is accessible and understandable to all stakeholders. Only through a collaborative and comprehensive approach to data can we develop practical and effective solutions to our communities’ complex educational challenges.
In collaboration with the community, data should then be made to be accessible, usable, relevant, and objectively interpreted to ensure that it is effective in informing educational decision-making and improvement efforts. Providing equal access to data and information, regardless of background or experience, is paramount. This includes making data available in different formats and languages and using clear and straightforward language. Data should also be presented in a way that is easy to navigate, analyze, and interpret. Data visualization tools, providing explanations and context for the data, and ensuring that the data is presented in a way that provides insight and understanding. Ensuring that the data is directly connected to the educational goals and priorities of the community will increase relevance, especially when analyzed in a meaningful and actionable way. Additionally, objective interpretation is necessary because it ensures that the data is not biased or manipulated to support a particular agenda or perspective. This is defined as ensuring that the data is analyzed and interpreted equitably and transparently, to ensure that different perspectives are considered.
Now, what’s most needed to fully understand Colorado’s quantitative educational data are the voices, experiences, and perceptions of students, parents, and community members. To this end, and having heard from the community, Education and Community has begun the development of VINE | Research & Data Hub. The VINE | Research & Data Hub will leverage student, parent, and community input to provide accessible, usable, and relevant quantitative data and applicable qualitative data to provide the necessary information related to community-identified priorities. We look forward to collaborating with community members to develop a data platform that supports the community.
Dara Marin Prais has a Ph.D. in Educational Research, Evaluation, and Assessment, and brings with her a diverse teaching and educational background. She began her career in education as a classroom educator for over 10 years, teaching both K-12 special education and elementary general education across the Denver metro area. She then earned a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, with specific expertise in assessment design, analysis, and interpretation. While completing her doctorate, she taught research methodology and statistical analysis courses at the graduate level. As a person of color, she’s passionate about utilizing her experience and expertise to leverage the full capacity of research and data to meet the needs of diverse communities to make impactful changes.