Fostering Meaningful Data Conversations to Support Student Success

by Krys Payne, Executive Director, Network for College Success (NCS)
March 21, 2024

Student success systems are a way of organizing a school community to better support the academic progress, college and career transitions, and academic well-being of all students. Holistic, real-time, actionable data is one of the four core components of such systems, yet school leaders and teachers can find data access difficult, data manipulation for visualization cumbersome, and facilitating data-based conversations daunting. 

To help school and student support staff overcome these challenges, the GRAD Partnership hosted a Community of Practice webinar, Data-Informed Reflection and Action in Student Success Systems: Data for Student Success Systems. The Community of Practice, hosted by the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success (NCS), featured two expert panelists, NCS data strategists Amanda Baltikas and Jazmin Fermin. In addition, audience members participated in small group breakout sessions, where they collectively made meaning and considered what to take back to their own school and district contexts. Here are some nuggets of wisdom we gleaned from our time together.

Understand the role of data within student success systems

Baltikas and Fermin encourage educators to pay attention to how data functions in their schools, for it creates the culture surrounding it. Data serves three functions: accountability, improvement, and transformation. Data for transformation is particularly important as it undergirds both data for accountability and improvement. They also remind us that, ultimately, the data we use, the conversations we have, and the actions we take because of it must be centered on the educational experiences and outcomes of the least-served students in every school.

Set an effective foundation for data-based conversations with core values

Core values help ensure that data conversations are collaborative and problem-solving wherein what is possible for students expands rather than contracts. Baltikas and Fermin strongly recommend adhering to these summarized core values:

  • Data conversations should be focused on learning, collaborating, and problem-solving
  • Data practices should happen in different ways at all levels of the school
  • Data strategies should be research-backed, valid, and actionable
  • The goal of increasing educational attainment should be primary
  • Remember that data strategy is a social process dependent on the learning that happens as a part of it
  • Understand that not everything can be measured 
  • Make space for emotions, but remain steadfast

Create and nurture conditions that support the use of holistic, real-time, actionable data

School leaders cultivate conditions for effective data use. These conditions include identifying a data strategist who supports the success team’s efforts, ensuring access to the data the team needs, procuring a platform that can transform the data into visualizations that help school administrators and success teams make real-time decisions, and building in enough time for teachers and support staff to engage as true stakeholders in the student success system process.

As discussed in previous Community of Practice webinars, building trust is fundamental to the successful development and ongoing improvement of student success systems.

With their keen focus on actionable data, student success systems help educators and communities enhance belonging and school connections among students, address school-wide achievement, and meet individual student needs. Supporting school leaders and student success teams in their ongoing use and refinement of data that guides strategic action steps is fundamental to ensuring all students can graduate prepared for their futures.

For more information on all four key components of student success systems, check out the GRAD Partnership’s collection of four short briefs. And be sure to join all of the GRAD Partnership’s future Community of Practice sessions to continue learning with other dedicated educators about how to advance your student success efforts.

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