Dr. Abrams looks at impact of data on school reform

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Headshot of Lisa Abrams, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Foundations of Education.
Dr. Lisa Abrams

The amount of knowledge generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Lisa Abrams, associate professor in the Department of Foundations of Education, which looks at the impact assessment data can have on school reform.


Dr. Lisa Abrams, along with co-authors Divya Varier and Tareque Mehdi of the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, explored how data use can affect the frequency and quality of data-driven practices by teachers and schools. Specifically, the authors focused on teachers’ experiences in a professional development (PD) program to improve the data literacy and data use practices among nine elementary and middle school teacher teams. School principals were also interviewed to better understand the influence of principal managerial behaviors on teachers’ data use.

The PD program included a summer workshop in which teacher teams were introduced to a data use process, engaged in analysis of their state exam scores, and explored their qualitative classroom assessment results using discussion protocols and their district’s integrated software program. Through their work, teams identified a specific learner-centered goal on which to base their data use during the school year, created instructional lessons and activities to address a targeted content area, and developed an assessment plan to monitor the effectiveness of their instructional actions. The teams were supported throughout the year to facilitate their collaborative data use practice.

The results showed meaningful relationships between teachers’ confidence in their ability to implement data use practices and their reported data literacy. Through interviews, the authors also found that principals’ managerial behavior was positively related to teachers’ data use; that is, principals communicated data use expectations (school and district-wide) with their teachers, actively participated in team collaboration to encourage change-oriented school cultures, and operated based on the idea that instructional improvement is the primary outcome of data use. The results also illustrate the potential of PD programs to enhance teachers’ data literacy and ability to engage in effective data use practices. These informed practices can then decrease the anxiety that is often associated with data-driven decision making. The study demonstrates that leadership efforts to allocate responsibility of data use to teachers can improve capacity, while also fostering stronger connections between teachers’ daily work and the efforts of school leaders to improve student outcomes and organizational functioning.


Abrams, L.M, Varier, D. & Mehdi, T. (2020). The intersection of school context and teachers’ data use practice: Implications for an integrated approach to capacity building. Studies in Educational Evaluation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2020.100868