Data-Driven Decision-Making on Steroids: Moving from the What to the Why and How Good to Great Schools in Action

by | Mar 10, 2019 | Equity and Excellence, Instructional Strategies, School Improvement, Students At Risk, Teacher Professional Development

Your school is an individual entity. All schools have challenges that they need to overcome, even if they all ultimately have the same goals. What this means is that cookie-cutter strategies are not helpful to your specific situation. As the principal, you need to know what your school’s strengths and weaknesses are so that you can make the necessary improvements. To accomplish your goals, you need to accommodate both your school’s strengths as well as its unique challenges. It’s easy to try proven strategies, but they will not be effective if you do not create your own plan that is individually tailored to your school.

Indicators of Student Performance and Why They Matter

Before you can improve student performance, you need to understand it. In other words, you need to look at various indicators of student performance so that you can analyze it and extract meaningful information. Below are key student performance indicators that you need to consider when compiling data:

  • Rigor of coursework
  • Test scores
  • Attendance rates
  • Graduation rates
  • Promotion rates
  • Participation rates in co-curricular activities (like community service)

Another important indicator to consider is long-term student achievement:

  • Job skills and preparation
  • Citizenship (voting, community service, etc.)
  • Art appreciation
  • Development of values and character

How you look at this data is crucial to the process. For instance, test scores are important indicators of student performance, but there is more information that you need to consider in order to get to the root cause of a problem. For instance, say you are looking at 3rdgrade reading test scores, and you want to know how you can improve them. Knowing that the test scores are below average is not enough information for you to take meaningful action; you need to break it down further by asking other questions, such as “How many 3rdgrade students took ELA state assessment?” After this, you may want to break this category down further into gender, students with disabilities, Free and Reduced Lunch, or ESL students. Are there students in the class who were identified as at-risk or newly enrolled in the fall? All this information is important because it can help you better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your school. This data is valuable because it helps you unlock what you need in order to achieve the goals that you have set for your school.

Meeting the Needs of All Students

There are quite a few variables that make our schools diverse learning environments. This means that most schools are inclusive of students operating at their own pace when it comes to how they learn. The problem is that standardized testing doesn’t give you the data you need to address the needs of all your students—testing only tells you how well they can take a test. Other options to consider include:

  • Norm-referenced tests
  • Criterion-referenced tests
  • Performance-based tests (such as presentations, experiments, portfolios, etc.)

These options, combined with other standardized tests, can provide a comprehensive picture of your diverse group of students and what you need to do to help them succeed.

What Do You Want to Learn From This Data?

This is a question that you will need to answer before anything else. Having data is crucial, but so is knowing what you want to glean from it. There are a few reasons why this is so important. First, it lets you determine if the data you have collected is relevant to your goals. If it isn’t, you’ll need to figure out how to collect the data you actually want—and this is often accomplished by asking more specific questions. You can also audit the records of your students or get additional information from your teachers to collect all the data you need. 

It is also important to know what you want to learn from this data, because it will help you better audit the information. Knowing the right questions to ask will help you search for the information you need more easily and effectively. If there are still questions left unanswered, then you need to start asking more questions to get additional information. However, you should be aware that there are some things to consider before collecting more data. Cost may be one consideration, but it is certainly not the only one. The following are other things you should take into consideration before collecting new data:

  • Data can typically take between six months and six years to adequately go through. Can your school wait this long, and will the data still be relevant?
  • Is data the only way to approach the problem?
  • Is the data going to help accomplish goals for your school?

The Inquiry Cycle

The inquiry cycle was developed by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. It is called a “cycle” because after you have completed one turn, you still have an ongoing process that will allow you to better improve your school. Here is a closer look at this cycle:

  • Establish desired outcomes
  • Define the questions
  • Collect and organize data
  • Make meaning of the data
  • Take action
  • Assess and evaluate actions

When you take apart this non-linear cycle, you will see that everything has already been explained. You start by establishing what outcomes you desire. From there, you define the questions that you need to ask in order to get the data you need. You can then move on to collecting and organizing this data. Once you have compiled the data, you can move forward with creating a plan to improve your school and put it into action. After you have implemented your plan, continue to assess and evaluate as needed until you are on the path to achieving your goals. This is something that should be worked on with your teachers as part of their professional development.

How does your school use data to improve teaching and learning?

What evidence-based teaching strategies and skills are your teachers bringing to their classrooms? Do you feel like your school or district is making enough progress in creating equitable opportunities for all of your students?

At CSAS, our knowledgeable experts can provide high-quality training and coaching supports on how to effectively use assessment results and various types of achievement data to plan for student success.  Learn more about our services on our website, or schedule a free consultation phone call  with us to talk about how we can improve your educational excellence.

Chandra Williams, Ed.D. has worked in various senior leadership positions such as the state director of curriculum and instruction, chief academic officer, director of second opportunity schools, school turnaround principal, special education teacher, and clinical social worker.

The Center For Student Achievement Solutions provides technical assistance, professional development, and coaching support to create schools and classroom environments that are equitable and inclusive.