The data generated by, and associated with, students and educators is a valuable, yet largely untapped resource. From assessing student progress to determining the effectiveness of a new curriculum or teaching method, data can (and should) be used to guide key decisions in education
However, with all of the positive outcomes associated with data, there are just as many roadblocks in the way of becoming a data-driven school. In order to effectively leverage data in a way that motivates teachers and positively impacts students, administrators must understand and implement the five steps to becoming a data-driven school.
1. Define your metrics and goals
When kicking off a data-driven strategy, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t do everything at once. You need a clear and specific area of focus. Depending on the scope and time frame of your initiative, you may want to start off with a narrower assessment that you are going to dedicate time towards monitoring, and then work your way up from there. But how do you determine which metrics to track and what goals to strive for?
In the book Data Analysis for Continuous School Improvement, author Victoria Bernhardt identifies 7 main questions to ask in the initial stages of school data analysis:
- What is the purpose of the school or district?
- What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the time they leave school?
- What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of each year?
- How well will students be able to do what they want to do with the knowledge and skills they acquire by the time they leave school?
- Do you know why you are getting the results you get?
- What would your school and educational processes look like if your school was achieving its purpose, goals, and expectations for student learning?
- How do you want to use the data you will gather?
Once you answer those 7 questions, you should have a better understanding of what you need to accomplish and which metrics will help you track your progress towards achieving your goals.
2. Develop a vision and strategy
After defining your metrics and goals, it’s time to communicate the strategy to your stakeholders. This can include staff, teachers, board members, parents, and students. In order to provide a satisfactory explanation to all of those groups, you need to define your data-driven strategy using clear and concise language. Keep it simple, as you won’t want to overwhelm anyone with irrelevant information. Your vision for this initiative, if communicated consistently, will help drive your school’s stakeholders towards a common goal.
The strategy that stems from this vision will typically use a phased approach, with interim goals and milestones defined. These will be different from the long-term goals and outcomes that you defined earlier. This will help keep everyone engaged and positive while you are still working towards those bigger achievements.
3. Commit to managing your data
Working with large amounts of data may seem overwhelming at first, but that may just be a result of poor data management in the past. Collecting good, reliable data takes discipline. If there hasn’t been a data-driven initiative in the past, chances are that nobody has been focused on maintaining your data. In order for your data to provide accurate insights, you will need a firm commitment from school leaders to manage data appropriately.
Hire someone with the expertise to ensure that common standards, methods, and tools are used for the collection and management of data. This person should also head up a team dedicated to data quality, governance, and access. Only once you can ensure quality will data become a key asset for your school.
4. Get everyone on the same page
It is not always easy for teachers to understand the importance of data, but it is important to get them engaged. You need buy-in from everyone on staff, not just the principal or superintendent. If everyone doesn’t buy into becoming a data-driven school, then it likely won’t happen. If you are receiving some pushback, you may want to consider these best practices for facilitating change in your organization:
- Explain the “Why”: Everyone on the school staff needs to understand why the change is happening, what impact it will have, and where they are going with it.
- Provide Incentives: Use incentives, such as monetary bonuses or public recognition, for those who apply BI and analytics to decisions that deliver measurable positive outcomes.
- Empower Staff Members: Empower teachers to apply data to solving classroom and student-related problems by facilitating training and skills development.
- Promote Data Literacy: Developing skills and improving data literacy is critical for success, whether you are performing analysis or just viewing the results. Knowledge is power, so you need to adequately educate your staff members that are not so data-inclined. Professional development meetings and teacher trainings are a beneficial investment towards getting teachers involved in using data.
5. Focus on growth
Keep long-term goals in mind when reflecting on the lessons learned from short-term projects and milestones. Reflect, follow-up, and revise your data plans in response to the progress that you have made. You’ll want to periodically assess whether or not you are ready to take on more data initiatives, like going from tracking just one class to a couple. The data that you collect can help you improve and plan for the future when it comes to designing curriculums and figuring out what resources the school needs to be successful. It’s much easier to advocate for these changes when you have data on your side.
Transparency is important at this stage, so you’ll want to make your progress visible to all of those stakeholders that you have been communicating with since the beginning – staff, teachers, board members, parents, and students. Track your progress in real time using a data dashboard, with colorful and interactive charts that invite exploration and drive discovery. If you want to make this information public to your students, displaying dashboards on TV monitors by the entrance where they walk in every morning can leave them feeling empowered and ready to start their day.
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