Data Advocacy as a Professional Responsibility

Once upon a time, we were challenged to find useful data about education. Not much information was collected, and it was largely inaccessible. In recent years, as public demands for greater transparency and evidence-based accountability have generated an information frenzy, we still face this challenge—but not because data are scant. Now they are overabundant, often difficult to decipher, or of unreliable quality. In this new environment, we must prepare teachers and other education leaders to be not only data literate, but also advocates for effective data use by others.

Researchers and education leaders must take responsibility for helping PK-12 practitioners and other decision makers interpret the data being generated by districts, states, think tanks, research and policy organizations, schools themselves, and a multitude of other sources—often with set agendas that taint the evidence. Too often, unscrupulous data collection and usage leads to antagonistic distractions, bad press, and worse policy decisions. Parents, teachers, policy makers, and others in the education community too frequently must base decisions on anecdotal information or biased reports. We cannot stand idly by as data are used—or not used—in these ways.

What we need is reliable information that drives improvement, whether in classroom practice, district policies, or teacher preparation programs. Fortunately, the profession is beginning to collectively take productive steps toward translating our abundance of data into useful, actionable information.

One organization leading the way in this effort is the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), on whose Board of Directors I currently serve. AACTE is among dozens of DQC partner organizations engaged with policy makers and throughout the education enterprise to advocate for responsible data collection and use. The DQC has been leading the drive for equitable access to high-quality, useful information and the push to develop educators who can wade through the chaos and home in on the data that are relevant to their particular work with students in schools.

AACTE also continues to push forward our profession’s reform efforts by using reliable and valid evidence derived from and informed by research. Hundreds of our members are implementing a ground-breaking performance assessment, edTPA, that gives both programs and teacher candidates meaningful evidence about whether graduates are ready to teach from Day 1. We also participate in rigorous data-based transformation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), our professional quality-assurance provider committed to research, improvement, and peer-driven accountability.

AACTE also contributes to the information base with our Professional Education Data System (PEDS), which collects extensive data annually on our member institutions. These data provide policy makers, partners, AACTE members, and the public with authentic information about educator preparation programs that can be used to support reform, program review, and research. In addition, we are committed to enhancing the knowledge base through high-quality research published in our Journal of Teacher Education and generated in our new Research Fellowship.

With a collective commitment to using high-quality data sources and responsible analysis, we can meet the challenge of using data in a way that improves the profession and truly serves our nation’s learners. Are you ready to be a data advocate?

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE