Working with data

What are data?

Data are information that we gather and analyse to inform our decision making. Data take many forms, including words, numbers, sounds, and images. 

For data to be useful they should be collected and collated systematically and for a clearly identified purpose.

What are educational data?

In the school context, educational data often include: 

  • contextual/student characteristic data: such as information collected from enrolment records, student profiles, or attendance rolls 
  • perception data: such as those resulting from surveys and interviews with students, parents and teachers
  • student achievement data: various kinds of assessment data including student work samples, rubrics, scores or observation notes
  • student wellbeing data: such as those that capture students’ social and emotional development, or school climate. 

Each type of data can provide insights into factors that impact a variety of student academic and wellbeing outcomes.

What do high quality data look like?

It is best to collect and use high quality data to underpin educational decision making and practice. High quality data are: 

  • complete: all the data needed are available 
  • accurate: the data correctly describe what you are intending to measure
  • relevant: the data are relevant to the purpose for which they will be used
  • accessible: the data are easy to access
  • timely: the data are available for the intended use within a reasonable time period once collected  
  • interpretable: can be understood. For large datasets, additional information to provide insight into the data is required, such as how the data are organised and classified 
  • secure: data are protected and access is limited to relevant people.

What is the value of using multiple sources of data?

Raw data is a piece of the puzzle. The more pieces, the more reliable the picture. 

When data of more than one form, or from more than one source, are used this is called data triangulation. 

Triangulation of data is recommended because:

  • educational decision making or practice is more robust when supported by multiple sources of evidence
  • additional sources of information often provide more insight
  • it allows you to identify relationships and patterns among the data
  • one source of data can be biased or inadequate. This can be minimised by using multiple sources of data the validity and reliability of your findings are enhanced
  • inconsistencies in data can be more easily identified.

The What is educational data? infographic provides a quick, simple and visual snapshot of common data measures often used in school contexts. Click on the image or link to download this helpful publication.