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


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. As the principal, you need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are as a school so that you can make any necessary improvements. To accomplish your goals, you need to accommodate your school’s strengths and 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. Below are the indicators of student performance that you need to look at 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)
  • 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 3rd grade 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. You need to break it down further by asking other questions, such as “How many 3rd grade 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 and 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 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 the following:

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

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 take away from it. There are a few reasons why this is 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, by asking specific questions. You can also audit records of your students or get additional information from your teachers to collect all the information 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 what the questions are helps you search for the information you need more easily and effectively. If there are still questions left, 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 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 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 putting 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.