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Taking It Forward

A critical step of any measurement project is to determine how you will communicate and act on your findings to have the most impact.

It is important to communicate your findings in a way that is clear and coherent for your target audience(s). Consider what your audience already knows and what you want them to learn. Whether providing findings through a written report, presentation, infographic, or video, communicate succinctly, with accuracy, and with your evidence.

Spreadsheet programs such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel make it easy to quickly build charts and figures. Data visualizations can then communicate different trends. However, just because you can build anything with the push of a button does not mean any chart will suffice.

Beyond charts and figures, tables can communicate multifaceted information such as descriptive statistics (e.g., range, mean, standard deviation) or comparisons between a targeted subpopulation and the broader population. An important factor to consider is what will be the most accurate way to visually share the data with your audience that is accurate, user-friendly, and easy to understand.

The strategy below provides examples of how to build meaningful data visualizations:

Example:

Imagine that the student population is relatively divided based on race, but you want to illustrate discovered racial discrepancies across different types of academic courses. The table below (using “dummy data”) illustrates how Asian and White students are overrepresented in Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses while Black and Latino/a students are overrepresented in remedial courses. By displaying the enrollment percentages alongside data about the broader student population, your table signals the presence of an equity issue.

Table 1: Students Enrolled in AP, Honors, and Remedial Courses as Compared to the Population

AsianBlackLatino/aWhite
% of the Student Population22%24%26%28%
AP Courses45%9%6%41%
Honors Courses47%12%8%33%
Remedial Courses17%32%37%14%

Source: XYZ High School Student Records Database

Common Pitfalls With Data Visualizations

While presenting data in a visual format can be appealing to the eye, there are several common pitfalls to avoid so as to not mislead or confuse your audience:

  • Using the wrong type of chart for your data, which can make it difficult to discern differences; for example, a pie chart in which the pieces look to be nearly the same size.

  • Using too many colors, which can be confusing and make it hard to follow the meaning of various colors; this can also cause additional complications for viewers who have color-blindness.

  • Including too much information, which can overwhelm viewers with excessive data.

  • Neglecting to clearly label all components of the chart (i.e., legend, axes), which can make it unclear to viewers about what a graph is displaying.

  • Truncating or cutting off bars or lines, which may obscure the entirety of what the data shows.

  • Starting with a non-zero value or tweaking the values on the x- or y-axes, which could exaggerate differences.

Bottom line: Know your audience – but also keep in mind your responsibility to present data in an accurate and succinct manner.

Identifying and Presenting Key Findings, Highlights, Trends, and Recommendations

With all of your data analyzed and visualized, communicating to stakeholders and your broader community can feel overwhelming. When preparing to present your findings to stakeholders, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Answer your research question(s): Begin by writing a short (one-paragraph) answer for each research question and then consider a larger synopsis of the evidence.

  2. Identify key trends: Develop a brief narrative that identifies and explains themes that emerged across research questions. Think about your purpose and objectives, and explain how you achieved them based on your analysis.

  3. Provide context: Help people understand your findings as they relate to other contexts. You may discuss similar systems, districts, schools, or even classrooms that have found or applied similar findings.

  4. Make recommendations: Provide actionable suggestions for how these findings should be used moving forward.

As you prepare to present your findings, ensure that you communicate in a manner that is understandable to all stakeholders as there may be varying levels of knowledge. We recommend:

  • Keep it simple;

  • Use visual aids (when appropriate, and make adjustments to accommodate stakeholders who may have visual differences);

  • Stick to the relevant findings (not the metaphorical ‘kitchen sink’ of what you discovered); and

  • Address any limitations in your inquiry/research (e.g., short duration, small sample size, deviation from your original plan).

The following guidance may help when preparing to share your findings with stakeholders:

Sharing Findings in Different Formats

Although a federal grant or a project funder may require a formal research report, most stakeholders do not have the time or the bandwidth to wade through one. To best communicate about your project, think first about the structure of your findings and then how your intended stakeholder audience would prefer to engage with the information. Consider the examples and rationales below:

Research does not culminate with the presentation of findings. The true impact of research findings is contingent upon how they are leveraged to advance equitable change. The following are examples of how findings can be leveraged to support continuous improvement, strategic planning, decision-making, and advocacy.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is an ongoing process that requires regularly visiting and revisiting defined objectives and goals as well as ensuring strategy alignment to drive and monitor change. With a continuous improvement plan, the research process routinely returns to the beginning (all the way back to the start of the blueprint). With each iteration, new findings should lead to new improvements.

The following resource provides a framework for practicing continuous improvement:

Strategic Planning

The findings from measurement projects can impact strategic planning in a number of ways. They can be used to: inform the planning project, support continuous improvement during implementation, and evaluate the success of a plan. Integrating measurement into a strategic planning process can increase the capacity of districts and schools to adapt and respond to the ever-changing needs of their communities. Good data and strong data analysis are critical to the success and relevance of a strategic plan and ultimately evaluate whether it led to the intended outcomes.

The following resources provide strategies to help with strategic planning:

Leadership Decision-Making

Inquiry-based investigations or measurement projects can contribute to shared vision-making as well as inform next steps in the decision-making process. By collecting and analyzing rich, descriptive data, decisions can be made based on evidence and with equity in mind – especially as it relates to nuances found in your targeted subpopulations. With the right findings, you and your team are better positioned to communicate, collaborate, and make informed decisions.

The following Insight offers suggestions for managing change processes and decision-making as an educational leader:

Data Advocacy

Data plays an integral role in informing districts, schools, and communities about successful trends as well as in identifying critical areas for improvement. It can also play an important function in advocating for change. Used responsibly, data can be leveraged to advance equity and wellbeing, support claims, and show why a specific change is needed. When supported by data, advocacy efforts can help align and advise new policies – and revise current ones that affect whether students experience an equitable, effective, and engaging education.

The following resource provides useful strategies for leveraging data to engage in advocacy:

Bridging Research, Practice, and Policy

A disconnect often presents itself in the education sector between research, practice, and policy. Measurement projects often fail to communicate findings in a way to inform either practice or policy. At the same time, practitioners and policymakers often lack the evidence and/or resources they require to make informed decisions. By carefully considering not just how to communicate your findings but what you want to do with them, you can start to bridge the gap between research, practice, and policy.

Bridging research, practice, and policy should be a cyclical process that begins with integrating research findings, practical applications, and policymaking to drive evidence-based decisions and ultimately improve students’ experiences in education.

The following are additional resources, reports, and guides to use when considering future measurement projects:

Access TLA's Digital Equity Guide for additional insights and resources to help ensure every student has the tools and supports to thrive as learners – even beyond basic technology access.

This resource is offered to the field through a Creative Commons CC-BY License. Suggested citation is as follows:

Ford, V., Atkinson, C., & Holland, B. (2023). Research & Measurement Guide: A Resource for School & System Leaders. The Learning Accelerator. Portland, ME.

Do you have your own measurement stories and resources to share? Have questions? Contact the team at [email protected].