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Using Qualitative Data to Support Students During the School Closures

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May 18th, 2020

Are students successfully learning? Are they ready to learn in terms of well-being and mental health? In the past (pre-outbreak), teachers and leaders would’ve been able to provide answers to those questions with quantitative data—data such as test scores, number of absences, behavioral marks, and other numerical sources. 

With the shift towards a remote learning environment, many teachers no longer have immediate access to test scores or performance-based measures. Instead, many are now relying on qualitative data. 

Qualitative data is any type of data that can be observed and described non-numerically (generally by words or letters). The results are used to gain insight about experiences or beliefs of certain groups or individuals. 

In traditional settings, examples of qualitative data would include observations, journal entries, document analyses, personal interviews, and focus groups. In this current climate, qualitative data could expand to include check-in records, notes from students, personal surveys about well-being, and observations from online meetings. 

Qualitative data are crucial to monitoring students’ learning and well-being—and might be the main data sources that we’re able to obtain from students at the moment. In this light, what are some practical tips on how to go about using and organizing the data?

Here are 5 suggestions on how to get started.


1. Create a common method of gathering & recording data

It’s important to have a general consensus among your team about how to approach the data collection. Do you want to send personal surveys or compare observation notes? Having an agreed-upon method will allow you to establish a set standard of performance/health and be consistent in the analysis and interpretation of the data across the board. Also, decide on a common form within a platform in which all collaborators have access (e.g., a shared Google Drive or folder).  Whatever the case, enable your collaborators to have easy access and add input as needed to make decisions regarding next steps.

2. Develop a protocol for red flags

Ensure there’s a process in place for responding to any glaring or eye-popping concerns about the data. For instance, who needs to know if a student self-reports that he’s feeling severely depressed or even suicidal? Does this incident require the attention of a school counselor or principal? Having the right protocol in place for escalation will make it easier when multiple parties need to be involved. It’s also crucial for all school staff members to be familiar with the risk factors and warning signs of harmful behavior, and work towards creating a safe environment for students to share information.

3. Discover trends based on current data

Collecting the data is just the first step. Now, you’ll need to be able interpret the results. With the available data, what patterns or trends can you determine? What does the data tell you about the needs of students right now? Looking closely at your data, you might discover that students need more or different supports than you had been expecting—perhaps, it’s greater opportunities for collaboration, more informal Zoom meet-ups, or new motivations to re-engage with learning. A big factor of success in this remote environment is being able to adapt quickly and pivoting if necessary. 

4. Look to plan ahead with the data

The fall is coming with no guarantee of things going back to normal. In fact, many schools are expecting a return to the remote environment (at least partially). Regardless of the scenario, it’s good to use your data now to plan ahead for the upcoming school year. See what adjustments you can make over the summer to better prepare for supporting kids in the fall. Perhaps the qualitative data is showing a higher number of students being impacted by trauma due to the quarantine. Convene with your team to decide whether it’s time to invest in more professional development or hire more specialized staff. 

5. Make sure it lives with other whole child data

The data should not exist in a vacuum or in another silo. Ideally, your platform should be able to house all the academic, behavioral, social-emotional and cultural data in one place—including both quantitative and qualitative data. This would allow you to take all the pieces together as a whole to get a more complete picture of the student. You’ll be able to observe social-emotional data alongside performance measures, providing you with a better indicator of overall student health. If your system doesn’t currently allow for a whole child view of your students, talk to your team and/or administrators to determine if this is an issue that could be resolved before the start of the new school year.


Qualitative data provides critical insights into your students’ needs. When documented correctly, the data could live as part of the whole child picture and be passed on as a memorandum like any other data. The data can also help you align resources now and strategize for the coming year in terms of programming, professional learning, and more.

Illuminate eduCLIMBER provides a holistic view of the whole child, including qualitative and quantitative academic, social-emotional learning, behavioral, and intervention data. Learn more here.


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Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

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