Creating and Guiding a Data Team to Support School Improvement

by Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

Why Create a Data Team?

The ability to find, organize, and analyze data to meet the goal of success for all students is an expectation of today's school leaders (Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, 1996). Data have the power to reveal what is working well in a school and also to reveal the gaps between what a school hopes to achieve and its current state (Zmuda, Kuklis, & Kline, 2004). What structures and processes can school leaders establish that will support ongoing and productive discussions about teaching and learning based on data?

Boudett and Moody (2005) note that "the first step in getting serious about using data is to assemble a small group of people who will be responsible for the technical and organizational aspects of data work" (p. 12). Creating a data team has two distinct purposes. First, the data team organizes and prepares data in a user-friendly format so that school staff can dedicate their time to analysis and discussion rather than trying to understand sometimes obscure and complex information. Second, a team approach to data collection and preparation shows that the use of data for improving student achievement is a shared effort within the school (Boudett & Moody, 2005).

Who Is on a Data Team?

Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) observe that successful leadership teams typically are comprised of volunteers. Since data teams serve as a leadership team, school leaders should consider assembling a team of volunteers. Boudett and Moody (2005) also note that in addition team members possessing a variety of skills (e.g., organizational, technology, and interpersonal), should also have a "clear understanding of teaching" (p. 13) in order to provide data in a useful format to colleagues.

How Does a Data Team Begin Its Work?

Boudett and Moody (2005) have identified three initial tasks for the data team to complete that will lay the foundation for subsequent work:

  • Create a data inventory-The data team identifies and summarizes all data available in the school. The following questions can guide the inventory process:

    • What external, internal, and student-specific assessments do we administer?

    • What content areas are assessed with each?

    • What other student-specific information do we gather?

    • When is each type of data collected?

    • How can teachers find these data?

    • How are the data used now?

    • What might be a more effective use of the data?

    • What data do we wish we had?

    The inventory can be maintained electronically for easy access and updates.

  • Examine organization of data-Data teams need to examine how data identified in the inventory are stored and shared. The data team then determines if there is a more efficient and effective way to organize the data.

  • Identify and evaluate instructional initiatives-A third task of the data team is to develop and share a broader understanding of what information can be considered data. This is done by having the data team identify and catalogue all instructional initiatives within a school. Information such as who is supposed to be implementing the initiative, to what extent the initiative is being implemented, and the evidence used to make that determination can all be captured in a simple chart. The data team can also list other evidence that would be helpful to collect to determine if the instructional initiative is meeting the needs of the school.

Over 20 responsibilities of effective school administrators have been identified (Cotton, 2003; Marzano et al., 2005). Since "it would be rare, indeed, to find a single individual who has the capacity or will to master such a complex array of skills" (Marzano et al., 2005, p. 99), school leaders may find that creating and leading a team to assist with using data for school improvement is one way to distribute leadership.


Boudett, K. P., & Moody, L. (2005). Organizing for collaborative work. In K. P. Boudett, E. A. City, & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Datawise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning (pp. 11-28). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Cotton, K. (2003). Principals and student achievement: What the research says. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, (1996). Standards for school leaders.
Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From
research to results.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

Zmuda, A., Kuklis, R., & Kline, E. (2004). Transforming schools: Creating a culture of continuous Improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Date: November /December 2007