Making Research Methods Instruction Relevant for Prospective Principals: The Development of Data Literacy for Effective Data Use

Making Research Methods Instruction Relevant for Prospective Principals: The Development of Data Literacy for Effective Data Use

Mindy Crain-Dorough (Southeastern Louisiana University, USA) and Adam C. Elder (Southeastern Louisiana University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3188-3.ch013


In this chapter, the authors describe the specific research skills to be developed for prospective principals in preparation for effective data use for school improvement. Relevant background information is provided regarding effective data use leadership, definition of data literacy, standards for principal preparation in data use, research on teaching research methods, and a comparison of the research process and the data-informed decision-making (DIDM) process. These skills are organized and reported in the chapter by steps in the DIDM research process. These steps include goal setting/problem formation, using previous research, planning for data collection, obtaining or collecting data, analyzing data (transforming data into information), and interpreting/taking action/making decisions.
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The use of data for decision-making has become commonplace in schools (Mandinach & Gummer, 2013a; Schildkamp, Ehren, & Lai, 2012) and has been shown to make an impact in improving instruction (e.g., Carlson, Borman, & Robinson, 2011; Slavin, Cheung, Holmes, Madden, & Chamberlain, 2013). Schools are often forced to utilize data when making plans for school improvement due to accountability demands; however, effective schools incorporate data use into their culture (Bernhardt, 2013). Data are pervasive in society, and professionals in all disciplines are faced with organizing large amounts of data and finding ways to use data effectively. Schools are no exception. The individual responsible for leading data use in schools is the principal; consequently, principals need to have data literacy skills and know how to use these skills to successfully lead a school.

There are many professional development programs available to improve data literacy, and these programs are useful for ongoing professional growth (Data Quality Campaign, 2014; Mandinach & Gummer, 2013a). However, one’s capacity to use data effectively should begin in a university preparation program. The process of using data to inform decisions in many ways mirrors the research process that is the crux of research methodology courses (Aguado, 2009; Earley, 2014). Traditionally, research methods courses are a part of the graduate experience at both the masters and doctoral levels. On one hand, the information that has been gained over many years of instructing novice researchers can be of benefit when providing data-driven decision-making (DDDM) skill building. However, the research process needs to be taught in a manner that is relevant and applied to the responsibilities of a future principal as the data leader in a school (Kilburn, Nind, & Wiles, 2014).

The term data-driven decision-making has been utilized in educational literature and discourse for many years. Recently, researchers have begun utilizing other relevant terms, such as data-based decision-making, data-informed decision-making, data use, and data literacy. Shen and Cooley (2008) advocate for the use of data-informed over data-driven, arguing that first, data should be transformed appropriately into information. Then, educators should combine this information with educator knowledge and expertise to make decisions (Murray, 2014). The authors of this chapter agree with this argument, and will use the term data-informed decision-making (DIDM) when referring to the data use process.

The overall purpose of this chapter is to present the data literacy skills principal preparation candidates need to develop during their masters-level research course(s). To meet this purpose, this chapter covers the following two objectives:

  • Provide relevant background information; and,

  • Describe the DIDM Research Skills needed by principal preparation candidates. These skills are organized and reported in the chapter by DIDM steps.



Various topics related to effective data use are addressed in this background section:

  • The School Principal and Effective Data Use: A summary of effective data leadership and barriers to be overcome;

  • Data Literacy: An explanation of the differences between data literacy and DDDM/DDIM and a discussion of the specific aspects and components of the definition;

  • Data Literacy and Principal Preparation: How data use is defined in the national standards for principal preparation and the research about addressing these standards;

  • Teaching Research Methodology: A summary of the research literature on teaching research methodology; and,

  • Comparison of Research Process and DIDM: A comparison of the components of the research process and of selected DIDM models.

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