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A Community of Practice to Build a Culture of Data Use

Pacific | January 11, 2023

Among the many job responsibilities of educators at all levels is to examine a variety of data to inform critical decision making.

In many school systems, educators have access to more data now than ever before on their students' academic, behavioral, and social emotional learning progress. But availability and access to data doesn't necessarily mean that a healthy schoolwide or systemwide culture of data use exists. In this post, we provide an overview of the qualities of a healthy data culture, highlight positive examples of data use and data culture in the Pacific region, and briefly summarize how technical assistance providers who are not members of Indigenous communities that they serve can support data culture development in a respectful way.

What is a culture of data use?

A healthy culture of data occurs when educators within a school system believe in and commit to using data on a regular basis for continuous improvement and are empowered to collaborate and make decisions for which they will hold each other accountable.1

A school with a healthy, effective data culture integrates data use into its day-to-day operations. Staff view time spent analyzing, discussing, and using data as an integral element of their jobs as educators and support staff, rather than an extra duty. Ultimately, a healthy data culture is an essential component to a school's continuous improvement efforts because it enables the effective use of data to establish action plans and to monitor progress.

Here are five key elements that support a healthy data culture in schools, drawn from the IES Toolkit for a Workshop on Building a Culture of Data Use developed by REL Northeast & Islands:

  • Ensure access to data: School and system leaders ensure that educators and teams have easy access to data in an interpretable format—educators can't use data if it's not readily available and actionable.  
  • Build knowledge and skills to use data: Many educators need additional professional learning to know how to interpret and use data. School and system leaders can leverage resources such as the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making and the REL Northeast & Islands Practitioner Data Use in Schools: Workshop Toolkit provide their faculty with professional learning and coaching on how to use data to make decisions.
  • Make meaning from data: Provide dedicated time for educator teams to meet and discuss the data, collaborating to find meaningful and useful insights to inform action.
  • Clarify data use expectations: It's helpful to be clear about how the data will be used, by whom, and for what goal or purpose, so that educators know which teams use data in different scenarios.
  • Lead to support a data culture: School and system leaders are active and intentional about nurturing data use among their teams and providing the environment for their educators to develop skills and feel comfortable integrating meaningful data use into daily practice.

Data Use in the Pacific Region

Strengthening a culture of data use is a high priority for many school systems across the United States, including for systems in the Pacific region. For example, REL Pacific is currently partnering with the Public School System in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to build a stronger culture of data use at the classroom, school, and systemwide levels, particularly regarding K–3 student literacy instruction and learning outcomes. These efforts address all five key elements of the healthy data culture highlighted in the Toolkit for a Workshop on Building a Culture of Data Use.

 CNMI Public School System leaders discuss data practices to support early literacy
Photo caption: CNMI Public School System leaders discuss data practices to support early literacy.

And in the Federated States of Micronesia, the National Department of Education (NDOE) has partnered with REL Pacific to support school leaders' capacity to collect comprehensive and accurate school data to ensure that their schools are meeting accreditation standards. Schools in outlying islands and remote locations may have difficulties sharing data with their state and national liaisons, with spotty internet coverage and infrequent opportunities to travel or meet. The REL's partnership activities are assisting school leaders as they clarify NDOE's data use expectations and work to ensure school-level data access.

Through these and other efforts, Pacific Region education systems are prioritizing data collection, access, analysis, and interpretation as an important strategy for strengthening student services.

Limited Access to Technology

However, there are contexts in the Pacific region that sometimes influence or impede these efforts. As mentioned, in many outlying islands and remote areas, Internet access is not consistently reliable, making it difficult for education leaders to shift their data culture toward using data systems that are primarily run online. Relatedly, many staff, student, and family households in the region do not have access to the types of computers and other technology devices which might be required to access available data.

To support capacity building across the region, REL Pacific is facilitating a Data Culture Community of Practice, launching in early 2023. This community of practice offers Pacific region education leaders an opportunity for collective learning, sharing, and problem-solving related to establishing and sustaining a high-quality culture of data use within their schools and systems. We will also explore other supports available through federal technical assistance providers that can be contextualized to the unique needs, histories, and circumstances of Pacific jurisdictions.

If you work in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific jurisdictions in education and are interested in participating or learning more about the Data Culture Community of Practice, please contact us at

Nevertheless, Pacific communities are resourceful and abundant, and informed by place-specific practices for gathering, organizing, and sharing knowledge. Guided by centuries of data about the land, seas, and skies, Pacific peoples used this collective knowledge base to navigate across vast distances and share strategies for survival across time and generations. Similarly, today's educators rely on student data to explore how schools are preparing students for the future, informed by their awareness of the unique contexts and underlying factors that may create inclement conditions.

Pacific Region Data Culture Community of Practice

REL Pacific staff will be focusing on data culture in the Pacific region in more detail through a Community of Practice, using resources produced by the REL program such as REL West's resource titled Working Respectfully with Indigenous Communities Around Data, Research and Evidence: A Resource for State Education Agencies.2 This resource calls out six actions that state- and national-level education department staff who are not members of the Indigenous communities that they serve can focus on to meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities, including:

  • Honor Indigenous communities' sovereignty, unique political status, protocols, and ways of being.
  • Develop your Indigenous literacy.
  • Reflect on what you and your agency bring to the relationship.
  • Invest for sustaining mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships.
  • Recognize and integrate Indigenous expertise.
  • Inform state education agency (SEA) system improvements.

In alignment with these suggestions, REL Pacific staff spend substantial time in the region learning the unique customs, protocols, and cultural ways of being. We also partner with local educators and education leaders who offer cultural expertise and guidance that we honor and integrate into projects. The core focus of these partnerships is to create strong, effective cultures of data use in schools that align with local values to help all administrators, teachers, and students have better school experiences and more successful outcomes.

Additional REL Pacific Resources

Screenshot of REL BlogLearn more about using Indigenous principles in culturally responsive instruction in our recent blog post:

Screenshot of REL InfographicThis infographic presents key considerations for designing and selecting assessments that promote student equity as part of a balanced system of assessments:

1 Gerzon, N., and Guckenburg, S. (2015). Toolkit for a workshop on building a culture of data use (REL 2015–063). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands.

2 REL West. (2021). Working respectfully with Indigenous communities around data, research, and evidence: A resource for state education agencies.


Erin Chaparro, Ph.D.

Erin Chaparro, Ph.D.

Natasha Saelua, Ph.D.

Natasha Saelua, Ph.D.

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