This email would be appropriate for an educator leader to send a data system/report provider to advocate for the Over-the-Counter Data Help System Standards.


Dear Data System/Report Provider,


I noticed our district’s data system does not adhere to the Over-the-Counter Data Help System Standards that stipulate research-based ways to accompany education data reports with an online, searchable help system. Such a help system should contain task-based lessons on how to use the data system (e.g., where to click to generate a report), and also topic-based lessons to help educators use the data (e.g., using multiple measures). Adherence to these Help System standards is necessary to best support educators’ easy use of the data system and thorough understanding of reports’ data. Consider:


  • Only 48% of teachers’ inferences based on given data are accurate at districts with strong data cultures (U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, 2009), with other educators' analyses being less accurate.
  • Technology-related problems can impede teachers’ ability to analyze test data properly, and translating data into action is complex; educators can only effectively use data analysis tools if they receive ongoing support (Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, 2006).
  • Teachers have difficulty using data systems due to varying technological sophistication levels when it comes to using the data system to interpret student data, even amongst teachers who serve as assessment coaches to their peers (Underwood, Zapata-Rivera, & VanWinkle, 2008).
  • A shorter, targeted manual or user-friendly help system causes users to need 40% less training time and to successfully complete 50% more tasks than would be accomplished with only access to a full-sized manual (van der Meij, 2008).


Please attune our data system/reports to adhere to the research-based Over-the-Counter Data Help System Standards. These resources can help you:


  • Over-the-Counter Data Standards are available at (the Help System standards are on pages 5-6, followed by a paper with related research).
  • Products like ScreenSteps ( make it simple to create a help system that is illustrated, step-by-step, searchable, well-organized, downloadable/printable, inexpensive, and easy to access online.
  • Read the book How to Make Data Easy: A Guide for Edtech Providers to Improve Data Tools & Support so Data Becomes Easy to Use, by Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin. This guide explains how to implement each reporting standard within a data system/report (offering specific examples, illustrations, etc.).


Thank you very much for your time and assistance. Adhering to these standards will offer tremendous help to educators and students.


- Me


Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy. (February, 2006). Data-driven teaching: Tools and trends. Cambridge, MA: Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy.

Underwood, J. S., Zapata-Rivera, D., & VanWinkle, W. (2008) Growing Pains: Teachers Using and Learning to Use IDMS®. ETS Research Memorandum. RM-08-07. Princeton, NJ: ETS.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development (2009). Implementing data-informed decision making in schools: Teacher access, supports and use. United States Department of Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED504191)

Van der Meij, H. (2008). Designing for user cognition and affect in a manual. Should there be special support for the latter? Learning & Instruction, 18(1), 18-29.