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What is data literacy?

On a basic level, data literacy means the ability to work with and understand data.

However, one of the most widely accepted definitions comes from a recent Purdue University publication:

Data literacy involves understanding what data mean, including how to read graphs and charts appropriately, draw correct conclusions from data, and recognize when data are being used in misleading or inappropriate ways.

Data has the ability to strengthen classroom instruction, enabling educators to differentiate instruction, personalize learning, and guide every student’s growth.

How can I use data in my classroom?

Data give you additional insight into your students and their learning habits. For example, when a new school year begins, you typically don’t know your students that well. Reviewing data related to the previous school year or years provides you a baseline understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses. Of course, getting to know your students throughout the year on a personal level will always trump getting to know your students strictly through data, but it’s a start and allows for an initial understanding.

Now that you’ve established your baseline understanding, use data to gain even deeper insight. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education says, “In order for student data and data systems to have a positive influence on student learning, teachers not only need to locate, analyze, and interpret data, but also to plan and provide differentiated instruction through techniques such as individualized learning plans, flexible grouping strategies, and alternative instructional approaches geared to different student profiles” (2011).

Why does it matter, anyway?

Educators are perhaps the most critical decision makers in the classroom, but data have the ability to enhance your understanding of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, identify trends, and ultimately prepare students for college, career, and life success. Being data literate is crucial now and will become only more important in the future.

Resources and further reading

Alber, Rebecca. (2017) 3 Ways Student Data Can Inform Your Teaching. Edutopia. Retrieved from:
(2011) Teachers’ Ability to Use Data to Inform Instruction: Challenges and Supports. U.S. Department of Education.

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