The Faces of Data: Let’s Make it Personal

students using computers to look at data collected with a "make it personal" mindset

By Carol Martin

With the wealth of data available to teachers and school leaders today, it is easy to get lost in numbers, reports and spreadsheets. How can we use the most meaningful data to address the needs of our students? We need to put faces to the numbers.

In our small Alabama school system, we have learned that intervention and support must be personal, authentically involving students, parents, teachers and the entire system leadership. Our Response to Intervention (RTI) and at-risk support systems are designed to not only use technology and data for information, but to tell the personal story of each student.

Data at the Student Level

When we use our data gathered from Renaissance STAR Assessments, it begins with students. Our youngest students in K-2 have simple data folders where they watch and save their own data from assessments of all kinds. They learn to set learning goals, share their goals, and celebrate their own progress. We recently enjoyed some early learners presenting their data at a board of education meeting. When parents see the students’ eager faces and proud response to their own growth, it sends a powerful message. Students know their data belongs to them. They share data at parent conferences; instead of adults talking about their performance, they explain it to us.

We always want parents at the table and on the team to personalize the family-school partnership. Since we use the same assessment tool in grades 1-10, the parents of at-risk (and all) students have a shared understanding of the numbers, terms and reports through their entire journey through the school system. Parents know how to read reports and how to discuss goals and growth for their students. At parent conferences we have the data on the table. When we make decisions about interventions and support for at-risk students, everyone knows they are based on personalized data.

Great teachers know their students well. Personalizing data attaches meaning to numbers. Using common assessments for benchmark and formative checks, our teachers group students and follow results of interventions carefully. When a teacher personally discusses performance with each student, the data is a shared language.

Data at the School Level

The next level of personalization is at the school level. Everyone in a school should know the performance of classroom and grade levels, as well as the growth of each at-risk student. All teachers and leaders are aware of target groups and their progress. We all work to reduce retentions and maintain a goal of 100 percent student success. Recently, we targeted 37 students in our class of 200 freshmen, and met to discuss their individual data with ninth grade teachers before school began. We created a personal support system based on RTI plans and current data that provided strong support even before the first day of class. Our schools used personalized data to create intervention groups such as a reading gap group served in our Saturday School program where students can make up work, retake exams and receive extra help. Instead of broader school improvement goals, the personal attention to students is where we make our greatest gains.

Data at the System Level

At the system level, it is easy to take a bird’s eye view of system data without knowing the students with the greatest needs personally. We have held system data meetings and transition grade meetings where we share student stories and struggles. It is vital to connect “human beings” to data. Everyone in our system knows the performance of every school and the interventions that are most effective. We all know, for example, the number of ninth grade retentions and even recognize the longitudinal journey of each of those students through our system. We do not rely on a programmed tracking system to identify at-risk students because we are personally aware of each one. We have asked at-risk students and their parents to join us at system stakeholder meetings to explain their challenges. Seeing the faces that match the data motivates us all.

Our goal in Sylacauga City Schools is to support all students and to prepare them for our “CCC” vision of college, career and community success. To accomplish this for our at-risk students, we must not only use our data in traditional ways, but we must also “make it personal!”

For more, see:

Carol Martin is the director of instruction and intervention at Sylacauga City Schools in Sylacauga, Alabama, and a former secondary teacher and principal.

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

Guest Author

Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Daniel F. Bassill

This looks like a fantastic system. Is there any effort to continue to keep alumni connected to the school via the web site and data system so a) you have a better idea of long-term outcomes for your students; b) you can continue to help students with adult challenges; and c) you are enlisting your alumni to help students now entering the system?


Mike Lewis

This seems like an amazing system. I think it should be used in all school districts nationwide!


Great article!

Diane Young

This was a great article.

Fatima Peters

Great Article!!! Keep it up Alabama!!

Chimere McRae

It's always important to not only collect data, but to apply it. Great article!

Jamye Jaco

Star assessments are a great way of helping my students! It's amazing how acurate it is!


This is helpful information which I will be using for RTI.

Margaret Payne

Using data is very useful and helps me plan for class instruction as well as individualize instruction. When I look at class data I can easily see that my students are lacking in certain areas and can plan my instruction more effectively.

Janice Raby Neely

This is a great article!

Veronica A. Gonzalez

This article is very informative and useful for instruction.

Kim Schultz

The article was very motivating

samantha stephens

Very interesting and useful information for success within the classroom!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.