Making Data Work for Teachers and Students

Most edtech products generate data. The challenge with data is finding efficient and effective ways of connecting the dots so teachers can use the data to help improve student achievement.  Teachers Know Best – Making Data Work for Teachers and Students is a new report financed by the Gates Foundation that aims to help product developers, educators, and school leaders better understand the challenges that teachers have when using data.

More than 4, 600 teachers were surveyed. Some of the key findings:

  • 93% of teachers report using a digital tool to guide instruction.
  • 67% are not satisfied with the effectiveness of the tool or data.
  • 69% believe that customizing instruction to meet the needs of individual students is necessary to improve student achievement.
  • 61% believe that data and digital tools make them better teachers.


The study categorizes teachers based on their use of data:

  • Data mavens focus on individualizing learning plans to address the whole student.
  • Growth seekers use data to differentiate instruction in the classroom and adapt how they teach.
  • Aspirational users believe in using data but often find it overwhelming.
  • Scorekeepers rely on assessment data to help prepare students for state tests and other high-stakes assessments.
  • Perceptives rely on their own observations of how students are doing to guide instruction.
  • Traditionalists focus primarily on grades as a barometer of student progress and an indicator of where to focus their teaching.


48% of respondents fall into the top two categories and are early adopters of data use. However, another group of the same size finds it difficult to use digital tools to help students succeed.

One significant finding is that:

The proportion of data mavens is 15 percentage points higher in technology-forward schools than in other schools. These schools have principals proficient in technology, invest in technology and the staff to support it, provide dedicated time for teachers to make use of data, and give teachers the flexibility to choose the tools they use. (4)

For educators and administrators, this finding clearly demonstrates that teachers need a supportive environment with sufficient professional development, time and practice to become proficient in using data tools.

Opportunities for Product Developers

Suggestions for how product developers can better address teachers needs include:

  • Using the teacher segmentation described in this report to better understand the behaviors, preferences, and needs of educators to develop data and technology tools for teachers of all levels of proficiency.
  • Working with school leaders to develop better ways to support teachers, as well as parents and students, while introducing new products.
  • Using the data-driven instructional model (assess/analyze/pivot) to understand from teachers where existing data procedures and tools support or fail to support student learning.
  • Recognizing and addressing longstanding concerns about student privacy and security in the development and implementation of tools.
  • Ensure the open exchange of data among different tools, so that teachers can focus on teaching instead of time-consuming data management and aggregation.
  • Developing tools that use current and historical performance data to anticipate student learning trajectories and personalize instruction based on each student’s performance.

This report holds insightful findings for product developers looking to provide teachers with easy-to-use and effective data tools. One clear takeaway is that teachers want to spend their time teaching and not managing data. That is a clear call to action.