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Developing a Data Story

Using actionable data to tell a story that advocates for students


A data story is a powerful strategy to help stakeholders understand what data to request in their advocacy work for equitable education for students. It prompts stakeholders to begin by describing the story that they hope to eventually tell with the data.

Consider this example: a middle school principal crafts a data story to help her request data that allows her to understand perceived spikes in disruptive behavior among her sixth graders.

Since returning to in-person instruction from the pandemic, sixth-grade teachers have reported increased incidents of disruptive behavior. I want to understand whether this is a general trend or isolated to specific groups of students or teachers so that I can figure out what could be the root cause(s) of these behaviors. This means that beyond requesting disciplinary data, I should look more broadly. Attendance data for both the students and their teachers will let me see if there might be a relationship between inconsistent instruction and disruptive behavior. If I look in the student information system, I can see if written reports from school counselors and paraprofessionals describe additional contextual factors. I should also meet with the sixth-grade team and ask them to tell me about any strategies they might be using to meet their students’ social-emotional needs.

Taking a data story approach encourages stakeholders to use both numbers (quantitative data) and stories (qualitative data) to glean a descriptive interpretation of what is occurring with individuals or groups of students to inform advocacy actions. Stakeholders might ask the following questions to inform their story:

  • What problem am I seeking to solve?

  • What assumptions do I currently have and need to dispel before collecting data?

  • What data will fully elucidate the story?

  • What sources of data – digital, paper, qualitative – will enable me to learn more?

  • What information can be provided by individuals who are close to the situation (e.g., teachers, students, counselors, paraprofessionals)?


advocacy data