Today, we are more accountable than ever for our students’ performance. That accountability, combined with No Child Left Behind requirements, has led to increased development and use of data-warehousing and data-mining technology and district, school and student data to sift through.

Consider for a moment that schools can obtain information about student achievement from standardized tests, state standards tests and individual district benchmark tests. Simply gathering the data can be a monumental task.

However, the real challenge is not only gathering, but also interpreting the data and using it effectively to improve student achievement. School districts traditionally assign the task of“assessment” to a central office administrator who most likely also oversees seven or eight other major areas. This person probably has no background or coursework in statistics, leaving him or her woefully ill prepared to work with the mountains of data generated by student assessments.

To maximize the use of available data, many districts are hiring“data coaches.” Much like their cousins the instructional technology coaches, their job is to work with all levels in the district — from teachers to administrators and parents — to gather, analyze and interpret data.

What to Look For

To be effective, data coaches must have a specialized background. Such a background may be difficult to find and may also be quite expensive to compensate. In those districts that have employed a data coach, the position frequently reports to the business manager. What follows is my attempt to create a job description for data coach that may be helpful to business officials as they work to manage their data.

ESSENTIAL JOB FUNCTIONS Organize data from a variety of sources in the school district

Maintain large computerized databases

Apply statistical techniques and methods in performing project-related activities

Evaluate the statistical limitations of data

Analyze data accurately and specify a range of logically possible explanations

Prepare comprehensive reports based on statistical analysis

Work with district administrators to write and present findings, and recommend new methods for data collection, presentation and interpretation based on external and internal factors

Prioritize work assignments with little direct supervision

Maintain excellent rapport with parents, teachers and administrators

EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE Master’s degree, with a concentration in statistics or an emphasis in qualitative methods in the education, psychology or social science disciplines

Strong background in quantitative research methods and a working knowledge of parametric, nonparametric and multivariate methods of statistical analysis

Experience using statistical packages, including but not limited to Microsoft Excel, Access, SPSS and SAS

Demonstrated success in data-based, decision-making processes and procedures

SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE Ability to maintain large computerized databases

Knowledge of statistical theories, methodologies and techniques to solve problems related to data research, review and analysis

Knowledge of database systems, such as Microsoft Excel, Access, SPSS and SAS

Knowledge of schools as a system and the external and internal issues that will affect the system

Ability to analyze factual information, evaluate significant factors and solve complex problems based on statistical data

Ability to plan work assignments, write technical reports, and prepare graphic and tabular presentations of the data

Ability to present reports to key stakeholders

Ability to uphold rigid standards of confidentiality, professionalism and ethical conduct

Ability to think globally, with a long range vision

Excellent oral and written communication skills and attention to detail

Ability to work effectively as a team member

Legislation like No Child Left Behind and technology like data warehousing and data mining have put schools in a position in which the public will require them to respond more quickly to the data being generated by increased assessment initiatives. There is little chance that overextended staff members will be able to manage the level of data that are being generated. Therefore, we will soon all need a new type of team member — one with the skills to manage, interpret and communicate the information we receive. Consider adding a position like data coach to help your district leverage all those converging factors.