Course Spotlight: EDU 726 - Telling your School's Story through Data Analysis

Three girl students throw their hands up in excitement because their teacher used school data analysisWe know the term “school data analysis” can sometimes come off as intimidating (and riddled with math), so we’re taking a different approach with our new course, EDU 726 – Telling your School’s Story Through Data Analysis. Course instructor and co-designer Caroline Peinado (UNE MSEd ’09, CAGS-AEL ‘14) helps us explain how we can all become storytellers with data and gives us an insider’s look at the class while she’s at it. Caroline works in special education in Maine and has extensive experience with using readily-available data to make meaningful change in schools.

Quick note: though this course is offered as an elective for several of our Graduate Programs in Education, it can also be taken individually (without enrolling in a degree or certificate program) for personal or professional development!

Learn more about our online education programs

What is data analysis in teaching?

Teachers already use data all the time, and they may not realize that they’re constantly conducting data analysis. Information—any information—is data! Data analysis in teaching involves looking at the intersections between different kinds of school-related information and drawing conclusions from those connections.

In school data analysis, it’s best to take a multi-faceted approach by looking at four types of data: demographic data (attendance, gender, ethnicity), student learning data (standardized test results, formative or summative evaluations, failure or drop-outs rates), perceptions of people in the school community (including their attitudes, beliefs, and other observations), and school processes. There are a ton of insights available from these kinds of data alone.

Even more important, data analysis can be a tool to help your students achieve by uncovering an interesting “story” that can lead to a small but important change in your school or district. “I designed the EDU 726 course with this idea,” Caroline says. “We can improve the system we’re working in, our school communities, by making small steps.”

Why is data analysis important in the inclusive environment specifically?

Former Graduate Programs in Education Director Erin Connor called it “mission-critical” for special education teachers and other education professionals to use data. Just as one example, the primary work of special education focuses on each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). At their core, IEPs are a data collection tool. Each IEP is created together with family, students, and teachers based on the information about the student available at the time, and then it’s revisited every six months and updated with new information. Data analysis—reviewing what worked and what didn’t—is central to this process.

As part of the inclusion education focus area (and 3 of the 24 credits needed to become special education certified as required by the State of Maine), EDU 726 was originally created with a focus on inclusivity. However, “the inclusive education lens just means that we’re thinking about all of our students—gifted and talented, ELL, anybody!” Caroline says. “It’s great for leaders, principals, superintendents, teacher leaders, school social workers, and so on. Anyone can use data analysis.”

Read more: Post Baccalaureate Teacher Certification Program

So, what is EDU 726 like?

Let’s start with the official course description so that we can break it down a little bit:

EDU 726 course description: This course will focus on the use of data to create inclusive environments for all students. Participants in this course will apply the components of the Continuous School Improvement Framework (Plan-Implement-Evaluate-Improve). Participants will use data readily available in their classroom, school, or district. Several protocols for analysis will be used. Themes will include using data to support a shared vision and using data to examine school core values.


First, the number one thing that Caroline wants students to know about this course is that “there’s not actually any math involved! It’s not about creating new data, just reading stuff that other people have done, such as test scores for 3rd graders. It’s really about looking at information and using that information to figure out where your school is at and where it needs to go, and deciding to move forward with a plan by using data that you have readily available.”

When these kinds of change management plans are actually created in school across the country, it might take a year to go through an entire round of analyzing data, making and implementing decisions, reviewing the results, and going through it again. For our eight-week online course, the whole process is modified so that the students can learn the analysis process and develop a much smaller-scale plan.

“There’s lots of scaffolding and structure and tons of support, which is tough to understand from the course description,” Caroline says. “For instance, there are templates that students fill in. It’s not a lot of paper writing, either; there’s only one paper at the end of the proposal for the project, which is also more about gathering the information and figuring out how to apply it to your school’s unique situation.”

By the time students complete the course, they’ve learned the steps and approaches needed to address an issue in their school and improve it. They also learn how to facilitate the process, so they can lead such change in their school or district if they would like to.

“Also, there’s no new major technology or software to learn,” she assures. “For a small-scale survey, you can just use Google Forms, that’s fine, or SurveyMonkey, et cetera. Something that can make graphs and charts for that one survey.”

Read more: Developing Teachers as Leaders

School data analysis example

Caroline gives a broad overview of the major project you’ll work on in EDU 726:

  1. First, each participant creates a central question to narrow their focus, such as “how can we increase 9th-grade success rates?”

  2. Next, you collect your data. You might look at attendance rates, ethnicity and gender info, free and reduced lunch info, standardized test results, or Title I and response-to-intervention (RTI) rates. You could also survey teachers of their perceptions of the 9th grade, or review the number of kids in special education or English language learning programs.

  3. Then you pull all that data together and see what story it tells about the school. Maybe you discover that the free and reduced lunch kids are doing poorly on standardized tests. That’s a story you can tell and a problem that you can help solve!

  4. Finally, look at what supports are already in place (such as school processes, programs, or people) and make recommendations. Maybe you decide that you need an after-school study hall for 9th As your final project, you will propose your plan and lay out how you would implement it.

And there you have it! By uncovering the story buried in your school’s data, you can propose and enact real change that will help your students. Data analysis doesn’t just identify gaps that may currently exist; it can inspire you to think about what the future of your school could be.

At the end of the course, students reflect on what they learn on how they can use it in their everyday work. “I want them to ask themselves ‘how is this going to change my practice and how can I really, truly bring these ideas into my school community?’” Caroline says. “That’s the important part!” 

How to enroll in our 100% online course

What do you say, would you like to enroll in EDU 726 to tell your school’s story through data analysis? If so, awesome! Depending on your education goals, you have a few options:

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