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6 Tips for Leading with Data for School Improvement

Issue Brief
October 23, 2010
 
Today’s effective educational leaders use data extensively to guide them in making decisions, setting and prioritizing goals, and monitoring progress. They also use data to define needs, plan interventions and evaluate progress. This short paper outlines key considerations to think through to ensure the best use of data for effective leadership.


By Ellen Goldring and Mark Berends

Goldring and Berends are authors of the AASA book Leading with Data: A Path to School Improvement, published by Corwin Press.

The anchor for school improvement efforts is a schoolwide focus on teaching and learning. Toward that end, successful school leaders attend to school effectiveness indicators that are rooted in leading with data, including:

    the school’s mission and goals,
    rigorous content standards for all students,
    curricular and instructional coherence and alignment,
    expert teachers supported by high-quality professional development,
    the professional community of teachers,
    the climate of the school,
    the relationship of schools to their families and community, and
    the allocation of resources to goals.

Here are six tips to leading with data for school improvement:

1. Monitor Your Mission with Data

A school's mission is its compass. The mission provides a snapshot of what the school community values, tells everyone what goals the school has set out to accomplish, and sets the direction for where the school is headed. The mission and goals of a school play a pivotal role in guiding the curricular and programmatic activities of the school.

A school’s mission is the beginning of the data based-decision making process.

School leaders should continually examine data to set strategic goals that are consistent with the vision and mission of their school and address key school effectiveness indicators. This alignment between data and the school’s mission allows school leaders to continually monitor the progress toward reaching goals and aspirations.

2. Collect and Compile Data Linked to Your Mission

When engaging in data-based decision making linked to a school's mission, school leaders should continuously reflect on a guiding question: What do we need to know to monitor our mission?

Data-based decision makers understand the array of data that is needed for school improvement. Data are not simply test scores. Rather, school leaders can use a variety of data sources and types to monitor the mission, including data from teachers, students, parents and community members.

You can use data to understand and intervene regarding :

    rigorous content standards for all students,
    curricular and instructional coherence and alignment,
    expert teachers supported by high-quality professional development,
    the professional community of teachers,
    the climate of the school,
    the relationship of schools to their families and community, and
    the allocation of resources to goals.

3. Analyze Data by Involving the School Community

You can use multiple strategies to analyze data to propel teaching and learning. Engage your school community (teachers, parents, students) to analyze strengths, weakness, threats and opportunities for school improvement. Examine data across school years, by grade level, by cohorts and groups of students, by teachers within grade level, by subject matter , by assessments used (state mandated as well as formative assessments), and by respondent groups (teachers, parents and students). These analyses involve “peeling the onion” to examine various layers of data—to peel them in ways that allow for getting deep into the data for understanding potential problems and possibilities. Identifying key problems is important for focusing school-improvement efforts.

4. Create Strategic Goals

Create three or four summary statements based on the data collection and analyses. The statements should bring the various pieces of the data together to provide a detailed view of the focus of strategic problems. These statements should be based on what is learned by examining the array of data, and each statement should be reviewed in terms of both the severity of the problem addressed and the feasibility of addressing it. These statements then form the basis for the school’s strategic goals.

5. Use Scientifically-Based Interventions

Interventions address strategic goals. Scientific evidence, as well as the local context, are crucial when making decisions about a strategy for improvement.

Experimental designs provide the best research evidence to determine what works and under what conditions.

Taken together, a strategy that involves specifying clear goals for improvement based on data and reviewing high-quality research in conjunction with the expertise of educators, coupled with a visible planned process of monitoring and feedback, is likely to bring about real change.

6. Continually Monitor School-Improvement Efforts

Data-based decision making for school improvement is an ongoing process. Once a strategy is implemented, ongoing monitoring with data aligned to goals can support implementation and provide important feedback regarding how the new strategies are working and whether the intended impact is likely to be realized.

You can make midcourse corrections as needed. Through this continuous monitoring, school leaders can assess whether their schools are continuously improving.

Some problems may be solved. Some new ones may arise. Gathering a variety of data indicators, analyzing them, and building school community help schools build on their strengths, address weaknesses, and seize opportunities for success.

Learn More
For more on this topic, read the AASA book Leading with Data: A Path to School Improvement by Ellen Goldring and Mark Berends, published by Corwin Press.

About the Authors
Ellen B. Goldring is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair and Professor of Education Policy and Leadership and Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Mark Berends is professor of Sociology and director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) at the University of Notre Dame.

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