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Culturally Responsive Data Literacy: Transforming Data and Information into Action

Ellen Mandinach

Ellen Mandinach
Senior Research Scientist

Wed Feb 24 2021

This past year has been unlike any time in our history. Both the physical distancing measures due to the global pandemic and the racial reckoning in response to high-profile incidents of police violence have posed unique challenges in our society. Educators have grappled with the critical concern of how to support all students to continue to learn and be successful. Culturally Responsive Data Literacy (CRDL) is one way to support our nation’s students in this uniquely challenging time and into the future.

What is Culturally Responsive Data Literacy?

CRDL is the ability to transform data into information and then into actionable knowledge and practices by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting all types of data to help determine instructional steps or inform other educational decisions.1, 2 CRDL is distinct from data literacy in that it takes particular note of students’ context, background, interests, strengths, and surrounding information that may affect their performance and behavior.3, 4 While data literacy, as originally conceptualized,5 recognizes the need to use diverse data sources and address the needs of all students, CRDL makes these skills and dispositions much more explicit and supports educators in confronting implicit biases that may impact their decisions. It combines best practices in data literacy with culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy.6 CRDL has the potential to encourage educators to balance diverse individual factors that include students’ academic history and personal history with contextual factors that positively or negatively impact their lives.

For example, educators effectively implementing CRDL explicitly focus on using diverse data sources, going beyond just academic performance indicators. Using CRDL, educators will take into consideration a wide range of information, including students’ strengths and challenges. This might include students’ special talents or interests—such as their bilingualism, interest in music, or love of reading—as well as challenges they might face—such as homelessness, food insecurity, or transportation challenges.7, 8 Educators can collect such data informally through conversations with and observations of their students. Some districts even have programs where educators visit students’ homes to gain a deeper understanding of each student’s home context. Educators can examine these diverse data sources and ask guiding questions to understand who their students are beyond their academic performance and to continually check their own unconscious biases that may impact how they view their students. Thus, CRDL seeks to help educators turn the dialogue about a student from a deficit model to an asset mindset.

How Can We Increase CRDL Skills Among Practitioners?

REL Northeast & Islands conducted a two-part webinar series with the goal of bringing CRDL awareness to educator preparation programs to support faculty and staff to develop CRDL in their practices and curricula. This two-part series, Using Data to Promote Culturally Responsive Teaching, covered data literacy, culturally responsive practices, the development of CRDL, and how CRDL can be introduced into programs. The webinars provided resources to help programs develop a curriculum map of where CRDL might be introduced in their courses, such as in introductory or methods courses, as well as in the teacher candidates’ student teaching experiences. The webinars also provided guiding questions to help educators gain a better understanding of their students’ academic backgrounds and personal histories, and to consider their own possible biases.

If you prepare educators, whether at the pre-service or in-service levels, you may want to consider how to introduce CRDL to teacher candidates or the current cohort of educators. For more information about CRDL, watch the Using Data to Promote Culturally Responsive Teaching webinar series linked below.

Using Data to Promote Culturally Responsive Teaching: Workshop 1

Using Data to Promote Culturally Responsive Teaching: Workshop 2


1Mandinach, E. B., & Mundry, S. E. (in press). Data-driven decision making and its alignment with educational psychology: Why data are more than student performance results. In S. L. Nichols & D. Varier (Eds.), Teaching on assessment. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

2Warner, S. J., & Mandinach, E. B. (in press). Culturally responsive data literacy: The emergence of a timely construct. Commentary submitted to Educational Researcher.

3Datnow, A. (2017). Opening or closing doors for students? Equity and data-driven decision-making. Retrieved from

4Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

5Mandinach, E. B., & Gummer, E. S. (2016). Data literacy for educators: Making it count in teacher preparation and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

6Ladson-Billings, Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy, 465–491.

7Atwood, E. D., Jimerson, J. B., & Holt, B. (2019). Equity-oriented data use: Identifying and addressing food insecurity at Cooper Springs Middle School. ournal of Cases in Educational LeadershipJ, 1–16. Retrieved from

8Datnow, A., & Park, V. (2018). Opening or closing doors for students? Equity and data use in schools. Journal of Educational Change, 19(2), 131–152.