Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Educational Measurement and Research

Major Professor

Jennifer Wolgemuth, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vonzell Agosto, Ph.D.

Committee Member

José Castillo, Ph.D., NCSP

Committee Member

John Ferron, Ph.D.


Data literacy, Data use cultures, Equity, Multi-tiered systems of support


The purpose of this study was to examine how educators working within a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework make sense of data, how they use data for instructional decision-making, and how the data use cultures at the district and school levels influence this data use. The study was designed with a theoretical framework informed by the sensemaking about student outcomes model (Bertrand & Marsh, 2015), the data literacy for teaching framework (Mandinach & Gummer, 2016c), and the data use cultures framework (Firestone & Gonzales, 2007). I explored these issues through a case study methodology, utilizing semi-structured interviews, observations, document analysis, and researcher reflexive journaling for data collection.

My case was bounded by a single elementary school within a Florida school district. The particular district and school were selected as an exemplar case based on MTSS specialists at both the state and district level identifying them as implementing MTSS with fidelity and using data well. There were six total participants, including an assessment coordinator and MTSS specialist at the district level, and a principal, MTSS coach, and two third-grade teachers at the school level. All participants were interviewed at least once, with four of the six completing two interviews. Three grade-level data chats were included in the observations, and documents reviewed included things like the School Improvement Plan and district data use documents.

Using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), I created three themes to represent the findings—Data Use and MTSS are Complicated, Data Use and MTSS Require Mindset Shifts, and Educators are Limited in Making Data-Informed Decisions. Different meanings of data, different understandings of the purpose of data use for MTSS, and varying contexts influenced how educators made sense of their data. Educators’ beliefs and attributions also influenced how data were used, with participants believing that there are necessary mindset changes for data use to be implemented effectively and ethically. Additionally, the participants in this study were limited in their ability to use data for instructional improvement because of constraints like lack of teacher agency, time, and professional development and other supports.

There were several implications from these findings. First, school and district leaders that want to implement data use initiatives should ensure that the purpose is communicated clearly. This also includes clarifying if the data use process is going to be used punitively and for accountability, or more formatively for continuous improvement. Enough time also needs to be given for these initiatives, such as setting aside meeting time specifically for using data collaboratively. There is also a need for further professional development and other supports to help build educators’ capacity for using data well.

Limitations of this study include having less participants than I originally planned, with less data collection opportunities in the form of district level observations and no follow-up interviews for some participants. These limitations come from a combination of personal participant decisions and the impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic that disrupted the Florida school systems in the middle of my data collection. Additionally, though equity became a focus during analysis, the study was not designed with such a focus, so I was limited in my discussions around equity for this case. Future research is needed to explore data use for equity within an MTSS. Other areas of future research include examining specific areas of data use within an MTSS, such as the problem-solving process, examining how to best provide supports to educators in using data well, and exploring this same topic through different methodologies that allow for the generalization of results.