Leveraging data for student success Improving education through data-driven decisions

By Laura Knapp, Elizabeth Glennie, Karen Charles

People providing services to schools, teachers, and students want to know whether these services are effective. With that knowledge, a project director can expand services that work well and adjust implementation of activities that are not working as expected. When finding that an innovative strategy benefits students, a project director might want to share that information with other service providers who could build upon that strategy. Some organizations that fund programs for students will want a report demonstrating the program’s success.

Determining whether a program is effective requires expertise in data collection, study design, and analysis. Not all project directors have this expertise—they tend to be primarily focused on working with schools, teachers, and students to undertake program activities. Collecting and obtaining student-level data may not be a routine part of the program. This book provides an overview of the process for evaluating a program. It is not a detailed methodological text but focuses on awareness of the process. What do program directors need to know about data and data analysis to plan an evaluation or to communicate with an evaluator? Examples focus on supporting college and career readiness programs. Readers can apply these processes to other studies that include a data collection component.


Knapp, L., Glennie, E., & Charles, K. (2016). Leveraging data for student success: Improving education through data-driven decisions. (RTI Press Publication No. BK-0018-1609). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. https://doi.org/10.3768/rtipress.2016.bk.0018.1609

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


"This step-by-step, user-friendly book on making data-driven decisions could not be more timely. Through a guided approach to obtaining, using, and analyzing data, the authors provide a tool for a broad audience—for the very important role of advancing data use to better serve students.”

—Chrissy Tillery, Director of Evaluation, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships

“In the field of education, data and performance outcomes are now a part of the daily conversation in schools and are critical topics in supporting the academic achievement of our students. Leveraging Data for Student Success is an amazing resource that can help to equip our educational leaders, practitioners, and other professionals in adopting strategies that ultimately help our schools improve and students achieve.”

—Eric Hall, President and CEO, Communities in Schools of North Carolina

“Data, data everywhere... Now what to do with them? You know you're supposed to use them to make instructional decisions, but where to start? The use of student-level data by teachers and school administrators to make program and instructional adjustments is becoming an expectation in the education community. Teachers need formative assessment data to monitor and adjust their instructional decisions, and principals need student progress data to understand if a new program or curriculum is supporting student achievement. This primer takes the mystery out of data collection and analysis as it guides the reader through easy-to-implement strategies for continuous program improvement that benefit students and their teachers.”

—Pat Shane, Past President, National Science Teachers Association, National Science Education Leadership Association, and North Carolina Science Leadership Association


Laura Knapp Laura G. Knapp, MA, is a program director in the Education and Workforce Development division at RTI International whose work focuses on improving student success in preparing for college and career. She has more than 25 years of experience in educational research, including program evaluation, policy analysis, research design, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and preparation of policy-relevant reports for nontechnical audiences. She also assists various organizations in building data systems and using data to improve processes and document results. Before joining RTI, she consulted on issues surrounding data use and education policy for a variety of clients including the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, University of North Carolina General Administration, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Elizabeth GlennieElizabeth Glennie, PhD, is a Senior Research Analyst in the Education and Workforce Development division at RTI International. She leads projects that involve acquiring and using data to conduct innovative problem-focused research on challenges facing students, teachers, and schools. In addition to conducting research, she has provided practitioners with research-based technical support on using various forms of data. Before coming to RTI, Dr. Glennie was the first Director of the North Carolina Education Research Data Center at Duke University, where she created procedures for transforming student data routinely collected by the State of North Carolina into a longitudinal data system that permitted addressing various questions about the school system.

Karen CharlesKaren J. Charles, PhD, is an analyst in the Education and Workforce Development division at RTI. She is a former classroom teacher and professional developer with expertise in mathematics and science education. Her practitioner experience has supported projects focused on student outcomes and technical assistance designed to improve student outcomes. Before joining RTI, she led the technical assistance academy for over 150 regional math and science staff developers at the southeast regional education laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s SERVE Center. Her work focused on developing standards-based curriculum and performance assessment tasks to engage students in higher-level classroom experiences. She has authored several book chapters for the National Science Teachers’ Association on the role of professional development for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educators.    

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